February 21, 2024

Art as Medicine: How Creativity Heals and Transforms

Healing Through Art

The healing power of art extends far beyond a doctor’s office or group therapy sessions. From painting to photography to poetry, these creative outlets can have a positive impact on health and well-being.

French neuroscientist Pierre Lemarquis recently published a book that delves into this subject, detailing recent discoveries about the healing effects of art and creativity. The book cites astounding new findings in the field of neuroaesthetics.

1. Visual Arts

The visual arts (theater, dance/movement therapy, music, photography, painting, drawing and crafts) have become a significant element in several recovery and treatment procedures. Research has shown that art helps heal trauma, reduce stress and anxiety, increase memory and neurosensory capacities, foster self-esteem, improve interpersonal relationships, promote insight and advance societal and ecological change.

Research also shows that simply observing art stimulates brain waves and the nervous system, and increases levels of serotonin which stabilize mood, emotions and feelings. It has been reported that incorporating the visual arts into one’s daily life provides similar benefits to regular exercise! The Americans for the Arts website is full of vital information concerning this fascinating topic.

2. Music

The healing powers of music, praised by philosophers from Aristotle to Pythagoras, are increasingly validated by medical research. In one study, listening to 30 minutes of music lowered heart rates and relieved pain and anxiety after surgery.

From age-old folk songs to contemporary pop anthems, music is a cultural touchstone that invokes age-old traditions and promotes social change. Whether the aim is to advance egalitarian values or to loosen sexual mores, music has an extraordinary power to connect people across cultural boundaries.

This episode is produced by Shanelle Callaghan and Pelumi Odubanjo of 198 Contemporary Arts & Learning – a Black female-led gallery in Brixton.

3. Dance

The art of dance has a long history, both as entertainment and for connecting to one’s emotional, social, spiritual, and physical attributes. While dance movement therapy was only formally recognized in the US in the 1940’s, our ancestors practiced dancing for healing since time immemorial.

The curative properties of dance are rooted in movement, rhythms, self-expression and communion. It allows a person to shift their mood state, from tranquility to increased arousal, thus facilitating therapeutic cathartic release.

It also improves procedural learning, memory, visuospatial processing and balance. It’s no wonder that researchers have found dance to be effective in improving mental health. [4]

4. Literature

There is no definitive definition of literature, though it often refers to a body of writings considered to be artful in form. It is a term that can encompass all writing or a more narrow category of works that includes diaries, reports, petitions, journals and essays in addition to traditional genres like fiction, drama, poetry and prose.

While a book cannot shrink a tumor or heal a physical wound, it can provide mental and emotional healing. For example, literature can help to relieve melancholy or ennui by allowing the reader to experience an emotional release through the story of another character. It can also promote a more positive outlook on life and dispel negative beliefs or stereotypes through the defamiliarizing power of fiction.

5. Theater

The theater is one of the most complex art forms. It requires both seen and unseen collaborators, and there are many ways to perform a play. It can be scripted or improvised, and it can involve music, dance and visual arts.

The most significant element that makes the theater unique is its connection with the audience. The actors have a direct connection in real time with the energy of the audience.

Psychologists have found that theatre can be used to treat trauma and PTSD. It can help the individual develop a capacity for self-reflection and alter behaviors and thinking patterns. This is particularly useful in individuals who have been exposed to physical, emotional and psychological abuse.

6. Visual Communication

Creating art forces you to connect your mind and body in a creative way that is very soothing and stress-reducing. Like physical exercise, it strengthens the body while clearing the mind.

Research has shown that artistic activities help improve consulting skills and patient education in the context of Primary Care. It has also proven to be a valuable tool for conveying medical information during health crises.

Major innovations in visual communication and design are allowing healthcare practitioners to communicate procedures more clearly for their patients. This shows empathy for their patients and makes it easier for them to understand the system. They can also reduce jargon to make the process less intimidating.

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