Have you ever been feeling down, stressed out, or obsessing about someone or something- but then you start doing some activity, like say, carving a pumpkin- and notice you feel a lot better?
What happened? Is there some sort of connection between creative projects, like carving a Halloween pumpkin, and mental health? According to research, Yes.
Music, drawing, meditation, reading, arts and crafts, and home repairs, for example, have all been found to stimulate the neurological system and as a result, enhance health and feelings of well-being. This means doing something as simple as carving a pumpkin for Halloween, coming up with your Halloween costume, decorating for Christmas, and even baking a pie, can all benefit you mentally.
The proven mental health benefits of creative work have led to the development of a type of psychotherapy called Art Therapy. The term art therapy is credited to British artist, Adrian Hill. Hill is believed to have coined the term when he discovered the therapeutic benefits of drawing and painting while in a sanitarium, recovering from tuberculosis. Hill writes, in his 1945 book, Art Versus Illness, that art therapy helps by “completely engrossing the mind (as well as the fingers)…releasing the creative energy of the frequently inhibited patient”. Hill went on to suggest this beneficial type of therapy to other patients in the sanitarium, and the rest is history.
But what if you’re not artistically inclined, can art therapy still benefit you? Simply put, YES.
Though we are arguably all creative beings, one doesn’t need to perceive themselves as creative or artistic to benefit from art therapy or creating art in general. Take painting, for example. The goal isn’t to try and recreate the Mona Lisa. The painting can be as simple as finger painting, and just as beneficial to your health. Just the act of using your hands can allow for the exploration and processing of thoughts and emotions and can provide relief and even healing.
It is important to note that for this artistic method of therapy to be officially considered “Art Therapy,” it must be instructed by a mental health and human services professional. These professionals can help combine the creative process with psychotherapeutic treatment. For more information on this particular form of therapy, check out The American Art Therapy Association’s website at: https://arttherapy.org/
The therapeutic benefits of creative work can be achieved in many ways. Whether it’s done with an art therapy psychotherapist or just at home with our friends and family.
Start by doing something manageable and fun. Keep it simple.
You don’t have to sign up for a painting class or learn how to throw pottery on a potter’s wheel. You can start by just going to a local Paint-Your-Own-Pottery Studio, where you can select anything and everything from an angel figurine to a coffee mug- and then using the provided paints, paint it. The employees will then place the painted piece in a kiln, melting the paints into a shiny professional-looking piece of pottery. Once the process is complete, usually within a week, the studio will contact you to pick up your piece. It’s simple, it’s easy, and it may even give you some brain-boosting dopamine, or some much-needed stress relief.
If paying for a class or a paint-your-own-pottery session sounds like too much time or money, there are plenty of other things you can do, many right from your own home. For more ideas, check out this list of “100 Art Therapy Exercises to Make Your Mind, Body and Spirit Sing”