A child expresses feelings of depression and anxiety after a natural disaster. An adult copes with the aftermath of an abusive relationship. A senior citizen recovering from a stroke makes strides to improve his speech and motor functions. With each of these scenarios, art therapy can provide opportunities for healing and offer a proven method for individuals to overcome hardship.
Art therapy is, "the therapeutic use of art-making within a professional relationship, by people who experience illness, trauma or challenges in living and by people who seek personal development," according to the American Art Therapy Association. Through creating and reflecting on art, individuals are given the opportunity to cope with symptoms, stress and traumatic experiences in a creative, stress-free environment.
You can help those close to you who might be struggling by sharing the benefits of art therapy or by volunteering with an art therapy program in your area. Here are a few examples of people who have experienced the benefits of art therapy firsthand:
* Kevin Rice is the hospital outreach artist in residence for The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp. "Our hospital outreach program uses art to help patients gain some sense of control over their own lives in the midst of a serious illness," says Rice. "I've learned never to underestimate the power of art with all the kids I've had the opportunity to meet."
* Survivors of natural disasters can use art therapy to help overcome depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress. Numerous accounts of Hurricane Katrina survivors credit art therapy as an effective treatment, especially for children who create artwork to express what they may not otherwise understand or be able to put into words.
* Military veterans also benefit from the therapy that art provides. Tim Mayer, founder of Artists for the Humanities, an organization that works to promote the return and recovery of combat veterans from all branches of the United States armed forces, agrees: "We recently opened an art studio to help veterans and their families learn about art as a way to improve the functional capabilities of those with post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury."
* Elizabeth Cockey, art therapist and author, reinforces art therapy's ability to help senior citizens suffering from depression or cognitive impairment disorders as a result of stroke or the onset of dementia. Cockey says the benefits of art therapy include improved cognitive memory function and motor coordination, decreased dependence upon medication for stress-related disorders and increased socialization among members of the art therapy group.
While art therapy is on its way to becoming a recognized method of treatment, programs often lack funding and materials. As acceptance and understanding for the methodology grows, however, individuals and organizations are stepping up to offer their support. One such organization is Blick Art Materials, which has donated art materials and regularly sponsors initiatives in support of art therapy.
"As more programs around the country begin using art therapy as part of the healing and learning process, we're excited and gratified to be part of this growing movement," says Bob Buchsbaum, chief executive officer of Blick Art Materials. "In this current economic environment, it is often very difficult for schools, hospitals and VA centers to secure the funds needed to maintain their art therapy programs."
To learn more about art therapy programs in your community and find opportunities for involvement, contact your local hospital or community center, or visit www.arttherapy.org. You can also join the discussion on art therapy and see examples of it in action at www.artally.org.