Art Therapy has the powerful healing effect of integrating the left and right hemispheres of the brain. Typically the left side of the brain rules the orderly, statistical, mathematical, logical, practical, rational way of thinking; seeing things in straight lines. The right side of the brain represents creativity and passion. It also experiences taste and feelings, free spirit, imagination, yearning, sensuality, movement, vivid colours, and the senses.
Without activities that stimulate integration within each side of the brain, one side can’t make sense of how the other sees things. You cannot put feelings and expressions into boxes as the left hemisphere would require. They will become restricted. To truly experience feelings, they must be felt. Subsequently, the right brain also has difficulty making sense of how the left-brain sees things. As a society, we tend to be mostly left-brain dominant. This causes an imbalance that can create great disruption in the natural flow of everyday living. This is why it is so important to create integration and balance within both sides of the brain.
Creating Art is Therapeutic
Observing, drawing, and creating art, allows for this integration in the most therapeutic way. We integrate the hemispheres of the brain whenever we do anything that requires logical and creative thought simultaneously.
Another powerful way Art Therapy works to change the brain is by rerouting neurotransmitters. In 1949, Neuropsychologist Donald Hebb described the formation and reinforcement of pathways in the brain through repetition. His quote, “Neurons that fire together, wire together,” coins the thought. Through repetition, we develop habits and ways of being in the world. Though these habits may not always serve our highest purpose. Art Therapy offers an opportunity to explore life in new ways. Using mindful awareness of our emotions, messages from within the body, and tactile sensory expression through art-making.
What is Art Therapy?
Art therapy is a mental health profession using the creative process of art-making to improve and enhance the physical, mental and emotional well being of individuals. This works for all ages. It is based on the belief that the creative process involved in artistic self-expression helps people to improve life. It resolves conflicts and problems, develops interpersonal skills, manages behavior, reduces stress, increases self-esteem and self-awareness, and achieve insight.
Art therapy uses the creation of art as a primary mode of expression and communication (American Art Therapy Association, 2013). It integrates psychotherapeutic techniques with the creative process to improve mental health and wellbeing. Sometimes referred to as creative arts therapy or expressive arts therapy, it encourages people to express and understand emotions through artistic expression and the creative process.
Making Art Spontaneously
By making art in a spontaneous way, one is able to bring unconscious feelings into consciousness. Art Therapy can help a person give expression to their feelings and hidden inner conflicts that they may not have words for. As one creates, they are able to uncover aspects of self that may be locked in the body. When people are then able to associate feelings verbally to the artwork created, the therapy speeds up recovery.
Psychotherapy and Art
The idea of using art in psychotherapy has been around since the early days of Carl Jung. This modality of healing has continued to grow and expand, showing people the benefits of making art in a safe, secure setting. Feelings, once trapped inside the body, will move and expand through the making of art. Doing this brings awareness to ourselves previously uncovered.
Although we may have needed these coping mechanisms at one or more times in our lives, they often become a source of pain as they no longer serve the purpose they once did. For instance, maybe you were bullied as a child and now find yourself on guard and ready to attack when provoked. When in reality the threat is no longer with you.
You can develop a deep-seated fear to speak out for yourself if you were scolded or physically reprimanded as a child for being too loud or acting out. Maybe this stifling of your voice and spirit has even created a thyroid condition or goiter? These emotions in the body are real and will eventually manifest into physical ailments. By bringing mindful awareness to the body, we are invited to let go of these parts that no longer serve us. and hold us back from living life to our fullest potential.
Implementing Art Therapy
By implementing Art Therapy, I invite you to experience the profound healing that both modalities offer. You don’t need artistic expertise and there is never any pressure to fold like a pretzel or push yourself beyond what is safe for your own body. Honour and listen to your body. Step into a new way of being in the world by allowing space for feelings and messages to arise. I look forward to crossing paths with you soon.
About the author:
Charmaine Husum, DKATI, RTC, CT runs a private Art Therapy and Counselling practice (Centre of the Heart) in Calgary, Alberta. She helps others find their personalized way to healing through art psychotherapy, mindfulness, and body focused approaches. She specializes in working with trauma and symptoms of such as: PTSD and C-PTSD, Autism, Depression, Anxiety, Eating Disorders, and Addiction. Find out more at www.centreoftheheart.com