Art As Therapy

Art As Therapy

  • On November 13, 2015

Art As Therapy

Building Resilience Through Art

Life will demand everything you have to offer.

Your ability to cope with these demands is directly related to your emotional wellbeing.

Each of us is equipped with a certain capacity for absorbing change (positive and negative) – call this your stress cup. If the volume of change sent your way is larger than the capacity of your stress cup, the resulting overflow will destroy your emotional balance.

Image of a baby tigerUnfortunately, our bodies tend to respond to this imbalance with stress and a fight or flight response. This is a useful trait if a tiger is stalking you but less useful if you are a modern human living in a chaotic world. Living a life that is constantly swinging into crisis mode and fight or flight response will erode your sense of wellbeing and limit your capacity for joy.

Art is one of the best methods for coping with this overflow in a healthy manner.

Any artistic expression, whether it is movement, music, writing, or the visual arts, is a highly personal and emotional experience. This taps into your core aspect and allows for major impact. This applies to both the creator and the viewer. Each is engaged in an experience of sublimation where their negative emotions are redirected to a more positive, healthy, position.

Involvement in an artistic process allows the participant a means of growing their stress cup and absorbing more change without challenging their mental and emotional stability. We call this resilience.

A 2007 Brunel University study, focused on women with cancer and the impact of making art on their perceived wellbeing, identified four main ways that art helped the subjects with their perceived quality of life:

  • Art focused the participant’s mindset on positive life experiences
  • Art enhanced self-worth and identity by creating opportunities to display continuity, challenge, and achievement
  • Art helped maintain a social identity not typified by their diagnosis
  • Art allowed space for the symbolic expression of feelings (1)

In another study by Semir Zeki, Professor of Neuroesthetics at University College of London, it was demonstrated that viewing works of art could create the same chemical response as love through the release of dopamine, the feel-good chemical. (2)

Check out the video at this link for a more information regarding Zeki’s findings:

All of this shows the ability of art to help us build our potential for affect regulation (our ability to mediate our emotional self and responses to stress). Likely this is why many artists create works stemming from places of anxiety and insecurity, or conversely, focus on moments of beauty and appreciation.

Artistic expression is a powerful tool for developing personal strength and efficacy. Art allows us to tell our stories without the restrictions of language and provides an action-oriented response to emotional triggers. The mastery of artistic skills (creating or appreciating) empowers the artist and viewer alike. (4)

All of which is to say; viewing and creating art contributes to our development of resiliency. Psychological resilience allows us to move on from real or apparent challenges by properly adapting to stress and adversity.

Ultimately, the arts provide a safe space to share one’s story and be a witness to another’s truth. During moments of stress, turn to art and experience the power of sharing and receiving. Allow this to build your resilience and experience the world more deeply.

Interested in learning more? Check out our references below:

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“Art is a guarantee of sanity.”

– Louise Bourgeois