The Therapeutic Benefit of Visual Arts in Healthcare

Although diseases often manifest themselves in a physical form, their effect on an individual extends beyond the physical characteristics of the disease itself. In fact, diseases have a psychological impact that affects the way an individual may perceive themselves and their social relationships. Over the years, several hospitals have implemented art-based therapeutic programs or interventions to combat this issue, which have somewhat alleviated the psychological effects accompanied by diseases.

For instance, a qualitative study conducted by Reynold and Lim found that women diagnosed with cancer who participated regularly in art-making activities improved their psychological well-being . Prior to this intervention, the women had experienced a loss of self-confidence, identity, and fear for their futures as a result of their cancers. These negative feelings in turn affected their ability to sleep and interact with other people.

During chemotherapy these women took part in art-making activities, such as card-making, painting, and pottery, which allowed underlying psychological and emotional issues to surface. These issues were identified through the symbolism portrayed in their artwork which revealed any unconscious thoughts, feelings and emotions they were feeling at the time. By being able to gain an insight into their own lives, address personal issues, and become more receptive with their own feelings, these women were not only able to develop a positive outlook on life and build their self-worth, but also able to establish an identity independent of cancer.

Similar effects were also observed in trauma patients who had difficulty expressing their pain using words. Instead, visual arts were used as a communication tool and an outlet to promote healing by encouraging patients to talk about their pain after illustrating it, rather than internalizing it. By learning to externalize their memories of the trauma and pouring their emotions into art, patients felt more relaxed and as a result had less intrusive thoughts about their traumatic incidents. This in turn lowered the risk of patients from potentially resorting to drugs and alcohol in the future as coping mechanisms.

Therefore, art-based therapeutic programs or interventions may offer some benefits to patients by strengthening their self-confidence, fostering their creativity, and serving as a coping mechanism. However, due to the lack of quantitative research in this area, it remains an avenue where more research needs to be performed to truly understand the impact of interventions involving visual arts.

References

Fallek, R. (2015, September 29). The Power of the Creative Arts in Health and Healing. Retrieved February 28, 2019, from https://health.usnews.com/health-news/patient-advice/articles/2015/09/29/the-power-of-the-creative-arts-in-health-and-healing

Reynolds, F., & Lim, K. H. (2006). Contribution of visual art-making to the subjective well-being of women living with cancer: A qualitative study. The Arts in Psychotherapy,34(1), 1-10.

Stuckey, H. L., & Nobel, J. (2010). The connection between art, healing, and public health: a review of current literature. American journal of public health, 100(2), 254-63.

Schouten, K. A., Hooren, S. V., Knipscheer, J. W., Kleber, R. J., & Hutschemaekers, G. J. (2018). Trauma-Focused Art Therapy in the Treatment of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: A Pilot Study. Journal of Trauma & Dissociation,20(1), 114-130. doi:10.1080/15299732.2018.1502712

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