The Healing Power of Art Therapy
Ten years ago I was teaching Product Design and Textiles A-levels with a pack of frozen peas (from the Food Tech freezer) strapped to my elbow in a bid to reduce the swelling that my arthritis was causing. I have had an ongoing battle with RA for nearly 20 years now and this was the start of it ramping up to being a more frequent (and unwelcome) visitor. A family bereavement and further health issues meant that 5 years ago I was signed off work to try and process these events.
My GP suggested that I might want to see a counsellor but actually the thing that really helped me get through this time (aside from the amazing support of my friends and family) was totally losing myself in creativity.
I had spent many years encouraging students with their design work so it was quite a release to be able to actually create my own. I worked my way through several sketchbooks using any materials that came to hand from fruit netting to greaseproof paper and employing many different techniques including stitching, cutting, drawing, painting, wirework, printing and photography.
I cannot stress how much the art therapy helped me, in the moment of creating I wasn’t thinking about anything else and it was my form of mindfulness. Every sketchbook page I completed allowed me to gradually heal, it gave me a real sense of achievement and, more importantly, hope.
Fortunately I was introduced to some new medication which seemed to work miracles, tackled my inflammation and stalled the need for surgery on my jaw (unfortunately, that triggered some other issues but that’s a story for another time).
Following his near fatal stroke in 2013, Andrew Marr, found art was essential to his recovery and used it to nurse himself back to healthº. Indeed, Marr’s document ’To Make is to Live’ written for The Arts Council¹ includes this passage:
‘my intuition and wider reading has led me to believe that people who have a strong drive to create may well thrive longer than those who don’t.’
Art therapy is recognised as helping a wide range of people explore their emotions, improve symptoms of anxiety and depression, relieve stress, cope with physical illness, improve self-esteem and develop self-awareness.
I recently went to hear a talk from Dr Rangan Chatterjee to launch his new book², Feel Better in 5, in which he talked about how to kick-start your health and happiness by incorporating simple ‘Flow’ activities where you are present and ‘in the moment’ into your daily routine. As an article in Forbes magazine explains³, ‘flow is the state you get in when you’re completely absorbed in something such as creativity’. Result based activities help to trigger the flow state and when you succeed at creating that result your brain is flooded with dopamine, the feel-good chemical.
I often give talks to organisations about how art therapy has benefitted my mental health and wellbeing . I talk about my background, how I started some of my sketchbooks, and the pieces I have designed and made over the years. I demonstrate and talk through how to put together ideas and start your own sketchbook with very little in the way of materials and equipment so do get in touch if you’re interested.