Art ‘as therapy’: Healing through creative expression

mywisdomfromatree

Exercising our creativity enhances the quality of our lives and nurtures overall well-being.  Creativity is an innate gift that every person has, which for some, may require some mentoring to activate. Creativity takes many forms.  Arts and crafts have long been the go to for art therapy. Any hobby or activity that allows for the creative process can be considered art therapy. Whether you like to paint, draw, craft, sew, woodwork, knit, scrapbook, play music, write, compose, cook or garden; your brain and overall health will reap the rewards of the creative process involved in them.

Studies have shown that art can reduce depression and anxiety, and improve cognitive functions by producing both new neural pathways and thicker, stronger dendrites. Exercising our creativity can ensure that we are less likely to develop cognitive impairment and memory problems as we age. Immersing ourselves in the creative process of art gives us a temporary time out from the body and mind’s focus on life’s stressors, ‘the unexpected’, past trauma and grief. Engaging in some form of ‘art as therapy’ regularly allows us to escape from our feelings of stress and pain; providing our body and minds the time and space we need to promote healing.

For me, other than creating decorative comforts for my own home, art had always been about producing a product to generate income. My family heritage of producing handwork for money has been a strong and compulsive influence throughout my life. In the past I spent many hours producing hand painted folk art pieces and marketing them at shows. These are a few of my handcrafted works. I recently crossed paths with the jug in the first image at an antiques shop.  When I first saw it, it looked familiar, and I wondered where I had seen it before.  Then I realized that it was one of my artistic reproductions which I had painted decades earlier.

birds jug farm animal lampRooster jug

I left the above type of income producing ‘handwork’ behind decades ago when it was no longer a good fit in my life, and went on to study nutrition and natural health to improve my health. My career focus then changed to helping people to improve their health through changes in diet, lifestyle and adding natural strategies.

Recently, after experiencing the loss of a friend to suicide and being thrown back into the grief process while still grieving the passing of my mother, I felt a strong need to return to the creative process to distract my mind’s focus. Accessing the ‘creative side of my brain’ had always helped me in times of stress in the past, and we all know that life’s stressors can add up at times and feel overwhelming. Over the years I had read a lot about how art was therapeutic so I made the decision that I would start painting ‘for therapy’. What I didn’t expect was the huge block I had getting started. In the past the motivation for painting, other than my home décor items, had always been to produce a product to generate income. My mindset had difficulty with the concept of painting for therapy, although I understood the health benefits. My psyche and perfectionist tendencies, influenced by my family heritage, was stuck in my old pattern of ‘produce for income’.  It took me quite some time spent meditating and praying to start letting go of my old mind set, and allow myself to spend time painting without focusing and seeing the end product as a marketable commodity. This was not an easy transition for me. I am still meditating and praying regularly to help reprogram my brain’s previous default setting about producing art solely as an income source.

In the interim, I have put my paint brushes to canvas.  Many years ago I had purchased a poster plaque at a thrift store (image below) with an inspirational message I liked and planned to someday reproduce.  I loved the ‘Advice from a Tree’ message but did not like the artistic presentation.  From an internet search I found that there were many longer versions of the poem, originally written by Ilan Shamir, which I felt tied into my ‘balanced lifestyle’ quest; and would more easily prompt me to make the ‘art as therapy’ transition that my brain needed. When I purchased the thrift store plaque below, the border, now dark brown, was a bright emerald green.

advice from a tree 2

My artistic interpretation of the ‘Advice from a Tree’ poster would be a better fit for my décor and draw more of the ‘wisdoms’ from the alternate versions of the poem I found on the internet. It would also reflect the beautiful tree view that I see daily through my living room window.

mytreeview

The real relevance of my art work version is the creative ‘therapeutic’ process and finished product ‘therapeutic’ messages. The creative process would provide me with the therapy that I needed while making the piece and the end product would provide me with ongoing visual prompts to help me in my quest to maintain a balanced lifestyle, be grateful and mindful.

The image below is my finished version which I decided to title as ‘Wisdom from a Tree’. It is a better decorative compliment to my family room and the messages and reminders of the creative process provide me with comfort, calm, motivation and inspiration. I am grateful for the healing it has brought me.

mywisdomfromatree

A ‘Wisdom from a Tree’ art therapy mindfulness workshop can help you in your quest to manage life’s stressors, process painful emotions like grief and feel more mindful, grateful and grounded. Join me for a therapeutic two day workshop to create your personal ‘Wisdom from a Tree’ unique artwork. I can lead you through the steps that I used to create my version and you can customize your creations by selecting your favourite ‘Advice from a Tree’ poem messages and other creative embellishments. This two day art therapy mindfulness workshop is suitable for beginners as well as providing advanced artists opportunity to further their creative expression. For more information visit my workshops and retreats page and scroll down to Holistic Menu item #12.

Art therapy journaling is form of therapy that involves a conversation with yourself. It is not about creating an art product, which may present you with a challenging learning curve from your past artistic production endeavors.  I have been using it, along with many other provided and self care strategies, to process grief while unpacking the emotional backpack of my mother’s passing and to help manage the multiple life stressors during that time, including the suicide of a friend. The picture below is the cover of my art therapy journal. It is pretty simple so do not be intimidated if you think you are not artistic. For some of the pages I transfer outlines from images with transfer paper to get me started, then start colouring inside and outside of the lines. Think of it as an adult colouring book meets self-help/self-talk journal, a winning combination.

artjournalcover

Whatever you are going through in your life, or feeling, consider some form of art ‘as therapy’ or art journaling therapy to help your body and mind to cope and heal. Take time to retreat from your busy life priorities, connections and obligations and give yourself the quality self care you need. I know my mother looking down from her bird’s eye view above, knows how hard I work and how many health gains I have made using a combination of provided supports and self care strategies to process grief, manage life’s stressors and take care of me. She would say in her loving, gentle way; ‘keep doing what you are doing, I have faith in you!’.

For more supports during your grief journey read my post.

Get started in your quest for greater resilience like that of a well rooted tree by reading Rick and Forrest Hanson’s book Resilient: How to Grow an Unshakable Core of Calm, Strength, and Happiness.

The Create Your Life Book below is a great guide to get started on art therapy journaling for grief, stress management and healing.

                                                       

I love these Tombow Dual Brush Pens which allow me to sit and colour while relaxing without the mess of water and paint brushes.  It is a great transportable product to accompany your art therapy journal on your travels.

Tombow

Below is the mix media water colour sketchbook that I started with. I added a copy of my dutch birth certificate over the cover before adding my art work.

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Enjoy your healing art therapy experience!

Elisabeth Hines, C.N.C., C.B.P., Holistic Wellness Practitioner, Health by Design, www.mybodycanhealitself.ca, elisabethlhines@gmail.com