Art therapy may be a way for people to hone in on their mental health and reach new states of calmness and confidence regardless of level.
18 November 2019
Social/Cultural Lens: Does Art Therapy provide benefits towards personal health?
Art therapy is considered by many to be an obscure form of therapy: this is evident by there only being 5000 licensed art therapists in the United States of America, according to Elka Torpey, an economist for the Bureau Labor of Statistics. Art therapists assist people in understanding their emotions in addition to finding a stable state of mind. Controversy surrounds whether there are actual benefits to be gained through this form of therapy often claiming there needs to be more research done; however, there have been numerous studies proving the effectiveness of art therapy in a multitude of ways and over varying demographics. There is also skepticism behind people claiming it won’t help them due to them not be an artist.
In deeming art therapy as truly beneficial towards personal health it must be acknowledged that according to Brian Parkinson, Ph.D. in Psychology, how people interact in society often is reflective of their mood and emotions. Therefore, if art therapy is able to help clients achieve a better state of mind and outlook on life, they could perform better in social interactions. According to Rebecca A. Wilkinson, an adjunct instructor at the George Washington University, and Gioia Chilton, a doctoral candidate in the Creative Arts Therapies Program at Drexel University, “Suggested research and practical applications illuminate the potential of positive art therapy to move individuals, groups, and communities beyond solely the relief of suffering to a state of flourishing.” This further backs up Brian Parkinson. If art therapy can provide beneficial elements to people with poor health, then in time they will be able to flourish. According to Diane Kearns, who has a masters in art therapy and counseling, “Results [of her study] indicated an increase in positive behaviors after art sessions as well as the postponement of the first incidence of negative behaviors.” The study’s subject was a child, and as a result, the artwork he produced was more freeform, using more kinesthetic mediums such as clay and finger painting. Mediums that were tailored for his personality lead to positive behavioral habits and fewer negative incidences, ergo improved social performance. In a different environment and with different students, similar effects could be found. According to Karen Triesman, a clinical psychologist who has a Ph.D. in psychology, “The findings [in her study] show significant and medium effect sizes for positive teacher-rated changes in children’s overall stress, conduct, hyperactivity, and procsocial [sic] behaviour and a large effect on perceived impact of children’s difficulties on their lives.” In the same study, children were initially referred for this art therapy study by their teachers for various reasons such as “[d]isruptive behaviour (n = 28), Witnessing violence (n = 7), and being Unhappy or withdrawn (n = 6).” Both the teachers and the children themselves were able to see positive social outcomes after participating in this study. A reduction in stress, achieving calmness (being less angry), and expression of emotions resulted. Peter Fonagy, a psychoanalyst and clinical psychologist, and Johanna Czamanski-Cohen, who has a Ph.D. and is a registered art therapist as well as a licensed professional counselor, et al claim art therapy enable individuals to articulate their emotions as well as interpret emotions being given to them. Children from Triesman’s study give anecdotal quotes showing their ability to interpret emotions from therapy such as: “[a]rt therapy helps with stress! It can help children with their feeling e.g. sad, scared or angry feelings. When you make art, it can take your mind off the bad stuff. This can help you feel safer”, in addition to, “[i]n art therapy you can get to make anything you want. It can help you change your behavior and calm down.” Emotional and mental positivity does not only apply to children. Adults also reap the benefits art therapy has to offer. According to Lisa D Hinz, a clinical psychologist and a registered art therapist who has a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology, social support and wellbeing can be achieved through therapy. In addition, Laury Rappaport, who has a Ph.D. in Psychology and among many certifications is a board-certified art therapist, asserts that adults who utilize art therapy become more connected with their bodies so they can understand their current state of being which might include stress through mindfulness prompted by therapy. More social merit can still be acquired in art therapy. According to Suzanne Haeyen, an art therapist with a Ph.D, conducted a study in which she found that “[t]he art product [from therapy] can stimulate emotional perception, self-insight and a more observant or sometimes also more down-to-earth perspective.” Equipped with a new way of interpreting their emotions and provide a rationale line of thoughts can be crucial in succeeding amongst a group of people. In The Laws of Human Nature by Robert Greene, an author of many New York Times Best Sellers, asserts how important being rational is. One of the great leaders of the ancient world exemplified this. Pericles led Athens through a period of goldenness, this was achieved through his emotional deciphering and rational responses. Athens turned to chaos with almost irrevocable results when Pericles perished. Without the ability to have meaningful self-insight and better perspectives society defaulted to a more primitive irrational sense of behavior, acting through pure emotion.
Emotion issues do not just affect the young and healthy: for this reason art therapy has been used with the older population typically 60 years and older, in addition to those who are ill. Therapy grants this demographic of citizens to feel like they are contributing to society who typically feel useless according to Elizabeth Mutran, a professor emeritus at UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, and Peter Burke, who has a Ph.D. in Sociology from Yale University. There are many studies that prompt solutions for the uselessness felt among adults. In art therapy, Alison Warren, who is an academic lead for occupational therapy and lecturer with the University of Plymouth and has a Ph.D. in philosophy, found in her study that “[benefits from art therapy] include an increase in confidence and motivation, with emotional support also being valued [pertaining to older adults].” A possible solution to have these individuals feel more confident, motivated, and a part of society is through a means of selling their work; however, according to Iveta Mihailova, Anna Marinova, Pavlinka Dobrilova, who were published in the Journal of International Scientific Publications, “[n]o forms and methods are being sought to sell the objects made by elderly or handicapped people, although this would give those persons better self-esteem and confidence.” 83% of people conduct in the study never even considered selling their artwork. Selling art as a partial occupation could be helpful. Frances Reynolds, a reader for Brunel University London in the Division of Occupational Therapy, and Sarah Prior, who is also at Brunel University of London, claim that “[a]rt filled occupational voids, distracted thoughts away from illness, promoted the experience of flow and spontaneity, enabled the expression of grief, maintained a positive identity, and extended social networks.” Reynolds’ and Prior’s study provides more evidence that implementing art therapy among the elderly and ill could give them a sense of meaning in society and not feel useless.
With a plethora of evidence supporting the benefits of art therapy, why aren’t there more art therapists or more people using art therapy? There may not be many art therapists due to the requirements of obtaining a license. The American Art Therapy Association states you must have: a masters degree, “[…] coursework that includes training in the creative process, psychological development, group therapy, art therapy assessment, psychodiagnostics, research methods, and multicultural diversity competence […] 100 hours of supervised practicum, and 600 hours of supervised art therapy clinical internship. In addition, preparatory training in studio art (drawing, painting, clay, etc.)” With the rigorous requirements and niche skillset, few therapists out of the many become specialized in art therapy as not even the salary of an art therapist is an incentive. The Guardian reports an average therapist earns $42,000 a year. Shifting over to the client-side a reason for stigma or hesitation towards art therapy is that many people believe they have to be capable of creating art in order to have an effective session. Girija Kaimal, an Associate Professor in the Ph.D. Program in Creative Arts Therapies at the Drexel University College of Nursing and Health Professions, claims “[t]here was an increased presence of alpha waves for both the artists and the non-artists, indicating potentially relaxed creative opportunities generated by drawing tasks.” In her study, she was able to find highly suggestive that even people who don’t consider themselves artists reaped benefits from therapy such as calmness.
Numerous studies have shown that art therapy could be an effective way of improving the mental health of humans at large, whether they be young or old, healthy or ill, artist or not. The mental health benefits, in turn, allow for some of the participants to function better in society as they reach new levels of calmness, increased confidence, and positive behavior. Art therapists undergo strenuous training to ensure that their clients receive the proper interventions to guide them to mental wellness.
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