Art Therapy: How Creative Expression Can Help Manage Anger,Anxiety and Pain

What can Art Therapy do for Someone Suffering from Anger and Depression?

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Carla P., who has been suffering from severe depression for over 15 years,claims that art therapy saved her life. Although medication provided some relief, it also brought on a 35 lb weight gain that made her feel old and dumpy.Looking for alternate treatment avenues, Carla signed up for a creative art session, even though she did not believe initially that the session could help her.

Within 6 weeks, Carla noticed significant improvement in her attitude. She reported better sleep and a more positive sense of well being. In fact, she felt so good she started walking every morning before work. within three months, she lost 10 lbs and her doctor reduced the dosage of her medication.

Carla is now convinced that her painting sessions helped her cope with an immeasurable sense of anger that had haunted her for 20 years. It was the best anger management class she had ever attended.

"I realize now that what was plaguing me was repressed anger. The art session became a kind of anger management class for me.I am much better now and can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Before my art therapy sessions, I could not see my way out of negative thoughts; it's like being buried in desperation."

In the book, Art Therapy and Anger,contributor Art Psychotherapist, Leila Moules, describes how she uses art therapy to help ODD children control their impulsive behavior.

Her classes create an openness that allows these children to learn new ways of being.They allow these children to establish a safe relationship with an adult; they provide them with opportunities to practice new behavior and new ways of relating to others. In essence, her creative art sessions allow the children to look inward to find parameters for new and positive behavior.

Because new behavior opens up new neural pathways in the brain, repeated open engagement with art provides these children the necessary opportunities for these new pathways to take root.

We can see these art therapy sessions as anger management classes that can help patients with a host of anxiety symptoms.

A study published in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management claims that art therapy reduces symptoms related to fear and anxiety in cancer patients. Patients reported significant reduction in 8 of 9 symptoms after spending an hour working on art projects of choice. These symptoms included a sense of pain, fatigue, nausea, depression, anxiety, drowsiness, loss of appetite and shortness of breath.

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How Does Art Therapy Help Patients?

What researchers discovered was that the creative process involved in making art both heals and enhances life. Their study confirms that art therapy can indeed play a role in reducing symptoms of anxiety and fear because creative play provides a form of distraction that takes patients away from their suffering, by getting them to focus on something positive, unrelated to their health,yet somehow benefiting their health in the long run.

Art allows patients to exercise some measure of control over what they do.Whether it is clay or paint they are working on, the art project confirms their sense of control and engagement. There were other positive effects reported for these art therapy sessions. Patients claimed that they felt less tired. Many noted that these sessions energized them.

Artist and medical doctor, Dr. John Diamond states that art heals by allowing the person to become whole. Art can be a spiritual force because it raises our Life Energy, that vitality we feel when we are at one with ourselves, our community and our God.There is inherent spirituality in art. Even the Governor General of Canada, Michaelle Jean, born and raised in Haiti, recognized the significance of art for the rebuilding of her country ravaged by the earthquake.

To find out how Art Therapy works, click here.

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What Can Creative and Artistic Expression Do For Someone Suffering from Heart Disease?

Ron Winslow reported in The Wall Street Journal (July 1 2009) that there is much evidence that art therapy and creative expression can benefit heart patients. One of these patients is a young 18 year old girl who had a second heart transplant at age 9.

Her body seemed determined to reject the first heart she received. She went into cardiac arrest 6 times in two hours. Even when she was recuperating at home after the surgery, she had recurring nightmares in which she watched herself suffering cardiac arrest.

She turned to writing to deal with her situation. She started jotting down her thoughts about being helpless and scared; then she began writing stories and poems. Eventually, the nightmares disappeared.

She had literally coped with her illness through healing words. Now 18, she credits her writing for helping her put her ordeal and suffering into perspective. Her writing enabled her to turn her painful experience into something positive, into a desire to make the most of her life. Recently completing high school, she has plans to enter nursing school in the fall.

Can the power of art and writing transform emotions and attitudes? Can it heal or prevent disease?


Researchers are seriously approaching art therapy as a viable tool for health and wellness.The Foundation For Art and Healing, based in Brookline, Massachusetts, is mapping out a research agenda to determine whether artistic expression can be considered a valid form of clinical intervention to be used along with exercise, diets and medication for reducing heart disease.

There is a great deal of clinical support for the direction of this research.

a) A 2004 study called Interheart found that psycho-social factors like depression and stress are as strong risk factors for heart attacks as high blood pressure and diabetes.

b) Researchers at Temple University in Philadelphia have found that listening to music can benefit patients who are stressed and anxious about undergoing treatment for coronary heart disease.

They discovered that listening to music could decrease blood pressure, heart rate and levels of anxiety in heart patients.In fact, music therapy is getting increased recognition as a viable form of treatment for depression and mood.More information can be found here. Research suggests that musical tempo is an effective "stress buster." Studies show that the heart rate falls most during the pauses between musical phrases. This effect occurred irrespective of musical style, but was perceived to be strongest among musicians who were trained to synchronize their breathing with musical phrases.

Researchers claimed that this synchrony was found to be beneficial to patients with heart disease and stroke as it can be used to regulate blood pressure and respiratory rates, two factors crucial to heart health.

More information can be accessed here. Other research studies have shown that music can cut stress, improve athletic performance, improve movement in neurologically impaired patients and even boost milk production in cows.

Creative Expression Therapy can be seen as a form of anger management class. It is an accessible and effective tool that should be part of a person's health and wellness routines.

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