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Art Therapy: a new frontier based on an old concept

Posted by Elizabeth Toy on

“Hey man, can I unplug your e-book?”
“Why?”
“I need to plug in my e-cigarette.”

In a world full of electronic and digital everything, we’ve all likely seen the countless articles about how we are growing more and more distant in our daily personal relationships, but we’re connecting more as a global community because distance is no longer an obstacle for communication.

However, as technology has become such an integral part of our daily lives, it’s hard to feel secure going anywhere without a device. 

Have you ever driven back home because you forgot your phone?

You’re not the only one.

Unfortunately, this dependency on technology may leave many of us finding ourselves experiencing social anxiety, especially in large gatherings. In fact, according to a study conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health, 40 million Americans who are 18 and older experience social anxiety disorder.

While social anxiety is probably not the worst of conditions to experience in the grand scheme of mental illness, we can’t deny that the overall stigma of mental illness prevails.

Remember when Metta World Peace (then Ron Artest) thanked his sports psychologist after the Los Angeles Lakers won the title after Game 7 of the in 2010 NBA Finals? Many rolled their eyes or took to Twitter in backlash at the esteemed pro athlete’s mention of something so unexpected in the world of sports, but World Peace certainly exposed an important and relevant aspect of our society and an issue that many struggle with daily, even if they don’t realize it or admit it.

Whether it’s due to more research, visibility or awareness, there are noticeably many more diagnosable diseases, disorders and conditions today, many of which lie in the realm of mental health.

Of the many reasons, it seems oftentimes people turn to therapy in general to help sort out problems and express their ideas and feelings that they can’t express in their everyday lives and relationships.

While seeking therapy in the form of a psychologist is one way to deal with mental illness, it may not be for everyone for a number of reasons. Meanwhile, art therapy is developing in its own field of study in universities and is also popping up as a means of therapy in mental health facilities.

While art therapy is a new frontier still being explored, the underlying concept isn’t new at all. According to the British Association of Art Therapists, art therapy is “a form of psychotherapy that uses art media as its primary mode of communication.”

Art therapy allows people to use their creative skills and various media such as painting, sculpting, collaborating, and collage-making among variousother media, to express what they may be unable to in other ways.

Art therapy isn’t limited to mental health; in fact, it can also be applied to those who may suffer from chronic pain or even serious illnesses, such as cancer. It can likewise help those trying to cope with both physical and mental illnesses, such as war veterans who may be trying to adapt to living with life-changing injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Art therapy can help people to relax, unwind and de-stress, as well as explore feelings, and reconcile problems. It can also aid in improving self-awareness, managing behavior and social skills. While some issues require verbal communication with another person, there are many thoughts, feelings and ideas that we may all feel at one point or another in the ever-changing stages of our lives that we don’t know how to express in words.

The greatest advantage that art therapy has over other means of therapy is that there are no limits to creative expression, and thus, everyone can be successful, whether or not they have any experience in art. 

Art therapy is ultimately not about the product created as much as it is about healthy expression.

For more information on art therapy, visit the American Art Therapy Association website.  

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