GUEST BLOG: Recovering Through Art

Many readers will know my love for art therapy and how beneficial, expressive and powerful it can be.  With this in mind when Virgil contacted me to ask if he could write a piece for Balloons and The Brain on how art therapy is helping him and others  battling cancer, I leapt at the chance for him to share how this form of therapy can benefit so many different people and situations.

Caregivers and patients trying to cope with cancer experience a wide range of emotions. After the initial diagnosis, you may touch the depths of anxiety, fear and frustration as well as sadness and depression. These feelings may be difficult to express in a traditional support group. Offering a way to explore and express these thoughts, feelings and emotions, art therapy is a type of mental health care. It is an innovative way for people struggling with challenging situations like a cancer diagnosis to receive the support that they need. Research by the National Institutes of Health indicates that creative arts therapies can have a positive effect. They provide a supportive environment where patients can share experiences with a trained therapist and connect positively with other people going through similar situations.

Guided by a trained therapist, you will use visual art materials to create various works that have personal meaning. Releasing pent-up emotions will help you gain new a perspective on your situation. Although participants might create artwork, this is not the ultimate goal. This form of therapy is designed to help people living with serious illnesses communicate and resolve confusing or difficult thoughts and feelings. The therapeutic sessions are intended to improve or restore a person’s sense of well-being. Patients can focus on something uplifting and productive instead of worrying about their diagnosis and treatment. Expressing emotions in a healthy way contributes to better mental health. The sessions can be accomplished in a group or individual setting.

Patients can regain a sense of control over their lives as they choose when to participate, which materials to use and whether to share their artwork. Therapists are trained to provide emotional support and assist patients and their families during these sessions. The therapist will create a safe environment in which you can work. As a result, you will discover ways to freely express strong emotions and share personal concerns. In addition to patients who have recently been diagnosed, the sessions can benefit those undergoing cancer treatment as well as in remission.

The creative arts channel positive energy that has a favorable effect on the immune system. This reduces the negative impact of stress, anxiety and depression. Research studies published in JAMA Internal Medicine show that art therapy provided benefits similar to other treatments like yoga and acupuncture. The goal is to help patients through the treatment process. These therapeutic sessions also provide patients, friends and family the opportunity to engage in a positive activity together despite the trying circumstances. This enables them to create fun memories and experience joy during a stressful period. An outlet for unexpressed emotions, these sessions are a good way for cancer victims to increase their self-awareness, resolve emotional conflicts and express unconscious concerns about their illness.