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Life Mantra
Anu Goel
Use of Art as a therapy in medical world 29 October, 2015
"Art is a constant agent of transformation, and is indeed the soul's drive to health."
A study was conducted on congestive heart failure patients in New Zealand. They were asked to draw pictures showing what they thought their hearts looked like. Interestingly, those who portrayed their hearts with the most damage turned out to have worse outcomes. This raised the hopeful prospect that doctors could use drawings to help change patients' views of their disease and perhaps alter their course for the better. Art therapy is by definition a psychotherapeutic form of encouraging self-expression freely through painting, drawing, or modelling.

According to Wikipedia, British artist Adrian Hill coined the term 'Art Therapy' in 1942. He, while recuperating from tuberculosis in a sanatorium, unlocked the therapeutic benefits of drawing and painting while convalescing.

He believed that the value of art therapy lay in "completely engrossing the mind" (as well as the fingers), releasing the creative energy enabling the patient to put up a strong fight against his illness.

Art therapy varies in two fields: art and psychotherapy. It can focus either on the art-making process as therapeutic in and of itself ("art as therapy") or it can be employed as "art in therapy" (art psychotherapy). Current art therapy includes a vast number of approaches such as Client-centred, Cognitive, Behaviour, Gestalt and Adlerian to name a few. The essence of Art therapy lies in humanism, creativity, reconciling with emotional conflicts, fostering self-awareness, and inculcating personal growth.

In renowned artist, Pablo Picasso's words, "Art washes away from the soul, the dust of everyday life". The purpose of Art therapy is essentially in the healing process. Art therapy is effectively applied in treating mental disorders, emotional distresses and physical disturbances.

Various types of visual art and art media are employed for the purpose of therapy, which can include painting, drawing, sculpting, photography, and digital art. Art therapy is different from other forms of creative (or expressive) therapies.

Art therapy, as opposed to any other form of creative expression does not require or involve the usage of language, thus making it all the more effective in treating cases of memory loss due to Alzheimer's disease and the like; stroke patients, lapses of cognitive functioning, traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (although no major clinical studies have been applied until now to scientifically examine the validity of its effectiveness), depression, dealing with chronic illness and the general process of aging.

Art therapy also plays a pivotal role in the determination and detection of a plethora of psychological disorders and distresses. Trauma, depression, schizophrenia, and PTSD are just a few mental illnesses that can be unearthed and brought to the fore through art therapy. A study was conducted to gauge the accuracy with which Art can be helpful in detecting hidden cases of depression and related trauma. Sixty-four renal transplant patients, between the age brackets of 6-21 years were evaluatedthrough self-report measures (CDI and Davidson) and art-based assessments (FEATS).

Subject art was analysed by Art Therapists to assess depression. Unlike the self-report methods, all patients were able to complete the art-based directives. When self-report measures and art-based assessments were combined, 36 per cent of the study population had testing results consistent with depression and/or post-traumatic stress.

Patients who required psychological interventions including anti-depressant therapy, psychological counselling or psychiatric hospitalization during the year after the study were identified as depressed. As Art Therapy gradually gains popularity, its purpose will become clearer. Art therapy tries to provide new healing opportunities to those who seem most likely to benefit from these alternative therapy methods.

Based on very similar lines, another study by David Gussak was carried out to establish a link between art therapy and the healing process. A 2009 study of prison inmates discovered that art therapy did certainly aid in alleviating the mood of prison inmates. It is believed that prison inmates experience an external locus of control, i.e. feel as if they do not control their lives, and hence, subsequently experience higher levels of depression and overall poor mood.

David Gussak, however, showed by means of Art therapy that the locus of control can indeed be switched from External to Internal, thus, allowing the inmates to believe that they themselves are responsible for their lives. This in turn, helps in lifting their spirits up, thereby significantly improving their mental health. It should, however be noted that Gussak's art therapy was found to be more helpful in improving the mood of female inmates than male inmates, though no conclusive results have been arrived at.

Two small trials of Memories in the Making (MIM), a fine arts program designed for people with early or moderate dementia, report improved attention, affect, and self-esteem during art therapy sessions. The MIM findings are encouraging, but the sample sizes and number of sessions in the studies were limited. A few case studies suggest that art therapy might improve behavioural symptoms outside the studio.

In one patient with moderate Alzheimer's and Dementia (AD) and no previous artistic experience, art therapy reduced behavioural disturbances while making art and at home. In another patient with severe AD, collage and colouring on pre-drawn line drawings once or twice a week reduced neuropsychiatric symptoms during and following art therapy. Art in a structured setting might benefit Alzheimer's and Dementia patients during therapy sessions but whether these benefits generalize to life outside the studio is still hazy.

"Art saved me. It got me through my depression and self-loathing, back to a place of innocence" These words by Janette Winterson ring absolutely true. "Art-based therapies will have a greater role to play in clinical psychology in the coming years," said Varun Venkit, who is doing a research on integrating science and research methodology with art.

Venkit presented a case study on changes during and after a group drumming programme held for about 70 rehabilitated commercial sex workers (CSWs) who participated in eight sessions of group drumming over two months in Mumbai. I recently came across a very novel form of art. Zentangle. It is a relaxing, fun way of creating beautiful images by drawing structured patterns. It increases focus and creativity, provides artistic satisfaction along with an increased sense of personal well-being. It does not require training as such in any form, just a steady span of attention is enough.

The integration of art-based therapies with treatment methodologies as offered by clinical psychologists can work well with people and is an area that needs to be explored further, said experts during the 38th national annual conference of the Indian Association of Clinical Psychologists, The Times of India had recently reported.

The article is jointly authored by Anu Goel (Counselling Psychologist) & Sreyoshi Bhattacharya

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
About The Author
Mrs. ANU GOEL is a Counselling Psychologist. She has practiced in Mumbai for 5 years, and is currently practicing in Delhi since the last 7 years. Goel, who can be contacted at 9313320146 and, is a member of the Counsellor's Association of India, and has been a guest speaker on several occasions.
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