Friday, February 5, 2010

Art & Pain

I read recently that Liam Neeson turned to art-making after his wife died to aid in his healing process. Others throughout time have used art for its cathartic benefits including Frida Kahlo, to name just one. It is no secret that art, music, poetry and other forms of self-expression aid in the healing process. But how? From a neuroscience perspective, art activates the emotional brain (amygdala ) quicker and easier than the left thinking brain. Art allows for feelings and emotions to be expressed instead of leaving them unaddressed where they can trigger anger, frustration and sadness in the brain and body. Art provides a calming and relaxing experience that supports the immune system, decreasing blood pressure and physical pain. When we focus on a creative practice, our minds are not focused on the pain or distractions of illness. Have you ever doodled? Doodling is a great example of how we can refocus our brains to a creative practice providing a distraction from worry, anxiety and many times physical pain.

Not only does art provide a tool to express feelings non-verbally, but it provides a vehicle to gain a sense of control when much of our lives can feel out of control. It offers a sense of accomplishment. It can be done at home or in the hospital or during medical treatments. Words can not always explain the impact an illness has on one's life, but art offers that opportunity. When we engage in art-making that isn't product focused, but rather process-focused, we can allow the enjoyment of self-expression to be present. We can let what happens happen and not be caught up with how something should look, but rather let the process unfold without judgment. With art-making, clients can give voice to the aspects of their lives that provide joy and to those that are challenging and painful. The art-work then becomes a tool to discuss life with a chronic illness.
Be well in body, mind & spirit.