5 Ways Expressive Arts Heal Unexpressed Pain

 “Art can permeate the very deepest part of us, where no words exist.” 
― Eileen Miller, The Girl Who Spoke with Pictures: Autism Through Art

5 Ways Expressive Arts Heal Unexpressed Pain

Expressive art therapy combines creativity with psychotherapy. It feels fun, yet is a deep form of healing for people who can’t put their emotional pain into the spoken word. Creative methods help people process post traumatic stress, grief, and terminal or chronic medical conditions. It can help anyone decrease depression and anxiety. Expressive art therapy is most effective when the client has an interest in creativity and you work with a licensed psychotherapist, who has knowledge of expressive art therapy techniques.

What is expressive art?

Expressive art is any type of creative activity (painting, writing, singing, dancing) in which you experience a decrease in symptoms, such as anxiety or depression. Its purpose is to shift emotions, in order to process them. Unlike traditional art, expressive art it is not about making a pretty picture. Although, you can end up with a beautiful piece of art in the end. Here your focus is on the process, not the finished product.

5 Ways Expressive Arts Heal Unexpressed Pain

Art holds a space for transformation to take place. You are in control of how much you express and when. If the process feels too overwhelming, put the art aside. Together, with your therapist, you decide when to re-enter the work. The page, paper or room where art is created, holds the space for you without judgment, as a therapist does in any talk psychotherapy session. This safe place for healing, allows you to open up, connect, and accept the pain inside. When you allow yourself the space and freedom to express creatively, healing takes place no matter what type of art modality you choose.

Relaxes and opens you to new possibilities. Play is important for everyone, not just young kids. Expressive art gives you a chance to have fun and let go. Think back to a time, when you were caught up in the moment of creation. You experienced a sense of timelessness or an expanded sense of time. Afterwards, many of you asked, “Where did the time go?” You returned to this moment, renewed and refreshed. This type of surrendering to spirit is when the most healing happens.

Helps you process terminal and chronic illnesses. It is difficult to connect with emotions when you are in physical pain. No matter how ill you are, you have the power of your imagination. It is common to experience anxiety and depression with any form of illness, including chronic pain. “The Expressive Arts, including painting, sculpture, music, dance, and literature, can bring joy, pleasure, and laughter to patients and staff in medical settings, qualities often in short supply. Making art or hearing music reminds us that no matter how ill or busy we are, we can always tap into the magic of our imagination. This frees patients from being just “the cancer patient in bed 4,” passive with no power, to the person who has cancer who still also has an imagination, a creative spark. This spark can be utilized to tell her story, imagine her healing, aid in her recovery” (Heath, 2005).

Heals Trauma. After a tragic event, people feel overwhelmed. Their nervous system reacts in one of three ways; fight, flight or freeze mode, releasing various stress hormones. When these chemicals don’t reset after a trauma, it changes the actual physical structures in the brain. The good news is with treatment these structures can be restored. Creative arts helps clients who have adversity, process these unspeakable experiences and organize them within the brain. Art helps contain these emotions and break them down into mentally digestible pieces. People find healing by telling their story in a different way, which reduces trauma symptoms.

Contains the Devastation of Grief and Loss. Often after a death, it is difficult to put your experience into words. Art gives you a safe place to express all of your feelings after a loss; whether it is anger, sadness, bargaining, depression, or acceptance. This process is also helpful when facing denial, as it helps you take in a small portion of the pain to work through at a time. There is no judgement with art; no one tells you to get over your loss or move on. Often through art, one not only heals but also finds a way to keep their loved one’s memory alive.

Reference: Creating Connections between Nursing Care and the Creative Arts Therapies: Expanding the Concept of Holistic Care by Carole-Lynne Le Navenec, Laurel Bridges (2005)   Chapter 7 The Spark of Creativity: Expressive Arts in a Hospital Setting by Wende Heath. 

Lisa Hutchison LMHC is a licensed psychotherapist with over fifteen years experience in counseling and nine years of experience using expressive art techniques. She specializes in working with professionals who often get drained from their helping efforts, giving them the tools and support to recharge and rejuvenate their energies. Get her free gift here a 10 page E-book: 8 Simple Things That Release Chaos from Your Life Now!  

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