The Art of Healing

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Andrea Colston


Explorations in Interdisciplinary Studies

29 November 2009

The Art of Healing:

The Benefits of Creative Art Therapy for Young People

The Art of Healing:

The Benefits of Creative Art Therapy for Young People

Young people today are often unable to express their thoughts and experiences when dealing with personal trauma. Traditional medicine has a tendency to focus on drugs and “talk therapy” to resolve the issue. However, research shows that other methods of treatment can be just as effective. The Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders defines creative therapies as a group of techniques that are expressive and creative in nature. The aim of creative therapies is to help clients find a form of expression beyond words or traditional therapy, such as cognitive or psychotherapy. Creative art therapy in its various forms can provide a natural and safe method to assist in the healing process. The most common approaches include art, writing, dance, drama, and music. Art Therapy

Art is powerful. When we think of paintings by Picasso and Monet, we wonder, “What were they thinking?” “Why did they choose to draw this particular person or scene?” The same can be said about art drawn by young people. Art therapy is a portal to understanding how children experience the world around them (Alvy 28). Some children have no language to describe their thoughts and feelings; therefore visual expression offers a greater range of effective vocabulary than is possible through verbalization. Diane Alvy, MA, ATR-BC, a board-certified registered art therapist, states about one particular case: Joe, 7, was referred to me because he was fighting with others on the schoolyard. He had above average grades and was hearing impaired with an expressive language disorder. Joe drew several pictures with ground lines—one showed a monster titled “The Hulk.” When asked to describe the picture, he said, “The Hulk got shot in the mouth, had no tongue, and people laughed at him.” We explored how the monster felt and whether Joe felt the same as the monster. We also discussed how Joe felt having an expressive language disorder, what to do when others teased him, ways to handle conflict, and ways to self-regulate. (28)

Life imitates art. In some cases, art imitates life. This form of therapy can help a young person gain coping skills, bolster self-esteem, and build trust. However, art therapy might not work for those who feel they lack artistic skills. Some young people may do better with pencil and paper. Writing Therapy

It is common knowledge that keeping one’s feelings bottled up is unhealthy, but putting thoughts to paper has been proven to be a cathartic alternative. Writing can give young people a sense of control over circumstances that might have felt out of their control when the traumatic event occurred. It also offers a promise of privacy. By putting difficult to discuss thoughts in writing, young people get the benefit of “telling” without potential fallout. In 1994, Erin Gruwell was a first-year English teacher at Wilson High School in Long Beach, California. Relegated to a room of unteachable, at-risk students, Ms. Gruwell introduced them to books such as Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl, Zlata’s Diary: A Child’s Life in Sarajevo, Catcher in the Rye, and The Color Purple.

By exposing her students to these books, they were able to see the similarities in their own lives, and were encouraged to record their thoughts and feelings in a diary. You may have heard of Ms. Gruwell’s students: they go by the name of The Freedom Writers. In an anonymous diary entry, Diary 73, a student edited a story written by another student about a similar incident his girlfriend went through: abortion. He said, The story was so graphic and depressing, describing details I never thought about before. I wonder if my girlfriend went through all the same things that the girl went through in the story…I...
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