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Art Therapy: Benefits and Applications

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Psychology
Wordcount: 2977 words Published: 20th Apr 2018

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Psychology and art therapy might have been in use to heal from thousands of years, for instance, in the 7th century Vaghabhatta in his Ashtanga Hridaya narrates as “Obeisance be, to that unique, unparalleled, rare physician who has destroyed, without any residue, the diseases like lust, anger, greed, arrogance, jealousy, hatred, fear and many such bad emotions” hinting on psychological treatments and awareness that were existing. Concurrently almost at the same period, The Chitrasutra of the Vishnudharmottara Purana, in his discourse on Indian painting details on various schools, techniques and ideals, significantly, he prescribes art is a form of emotional communication and a healing process. He says: “Painting cleanses the mind and curbs anxiety, augments future good, causes the greatest delight, kills the evils of bad dreams and pleases the household deity” (Kalmanowitz, Potash, & Chan, 2012: 192). These ancient scholars, though have specified these therapies did not explicate the details as the fields were out of the scope of their literature purview; however, they have left behind remarkable evidence on these therapies. Therefore, it is apparent that Indians worked with the awareness of art’s therapeutic benefits, which can be adverted to as an established concept of art therapy. Kramrisch proclaims that Chitrakara often admits that the knowledge of Vishnudharmothara is a mere transference of the knowledge he pursued from Indian lineage repeated and compiled from older sources [does not mention whether the older source was in the form of text/ verbatim/ training. Nevertheless, it shows the theory was pre-existing prior to the 7th century] (Kramrisch. S 1928: 4). A substantial research remains open for any further literature review and literature search for more details on these supposedly lost therapies.

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Clinical interventions hinder the healing process, especially in children on the contrary, adapting non-verbal method, e.g., ‘art’ is considerably accommodating. In need of psychologists providing fair and non-verbal communication to assess children The Universal Nonverbal Intelligence Test (UNIT; Bracken & McCallum, 1998a) was developed to help multi-cultural and multi-lingual populations and children who have sensory limitations, learning disabilities, psychiatric conditions, and various language-impairing neurological disorders (Reynolds, R. C. & Kamphaus, W. R. 2003: 254). Further regarding psychotherapy techniques it is also mentioned that “all these methods have a number of fundamental limitations” (p. 15).

The atmosphere is utmost important for children. Art studio is more welcoming and enables children to believe that they can carry through something over there, while the clinical environment is fearful and fretful (Councill T., 2003, 208). Staricoff in her exhaustive research review[1] (Arts in Health: A review of the medical literature cites nearly 400 papers showing the beneficial impact of the arts on a wide range of health outcomes) summarizes her findings as commitments with local artists and museums can show a significant improvement in medical students. Foreword by Peter Hewitt acknowledges that Artists are well aware regarding the positive impact and benefits of their works in healthcare centers.

Art of medicine can be enriched with responsiveness, consciousness, and thoughtfulness by combining art based activity in medical students[2]. Visualizing the art works can improve observation and understanding skills of students during medical training[3]. Art making, aesthetic improvements and installations can be worthwhile during treatment as they reduce the anxiety, provides a positive response to the treatment and speeds up the recovery, thereby reducing a prolonged treatment and increased expenses[4]. All these research reports show that art directly benefits the patient, staff, medical students and families. Art is vital for effective medical training and treatment.

Neuroscience has shown amazing advancements using art that does not rely on theoretical explanations or interpretation, e.g., fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) observes direct variations in the brain’s network during visualization[5]. Observing or producing visual art reduces the distress by opting positive distraction from negative feelings and thoughts thereby promoting health benefits[6].

Many scientists explore the use of art; such scientists illustrate and publish more advanced, highly cited research than the average scientists who are not involved in visual arts[7]. Hence, art making not only plays its role in healing but also places itself in the intellectual science camp.

This article is intended not to go against art psychotherapy or psychotherapy, but unfortunately, though we have copious evidence on the direct benefits of art, art therapy display predilection towards psychotherapeutic benefits. The concern is in the present situation of art therapy, where art is observed as parasitic on psychotherapy since it believes nothing can be achieved without verbal communication. On taking the risk of compromising with psychotherapy, this article questions whether we have lost the concept of “Art as therapy”? Have we sacrificed the essential values, viewpoints and integrity of art in the process of reconciling art and psychology? Is it a sacrifice made merely to get recognized as a scientific field?

The benefits of art have been discussed throughout the art history, philosophy, psychology, and anthropology literatures. In Dissanayake’s point of view the relationship between evolution and art is assessed sometimes as crucial to survive by making special. Culturally primitives use to pass on the morals and information. Psychologically, they use to relieve from the anxieties of uncertain life (Dissanayake 1992a as cited in Kaplan 2000: 59). Kaplan argues that by enabling language development, creativity, problem solving skills, self-esteem, and mental reparation visual art can support our well-being (Kaplan, Frances, 2000, 62).

Art therapy

Art therapy has emerged as a prevalent therapeutic module and has a long history of several decades. Art is a powerful tool in communication that can be used to understand emotions, stress and in-built complexities of people. The ability to reduce anxiety, resolve life’s struggle and enhance life without any age bar has elevated art into the realm of therapeutic forms, be it spiritual healing, medications, play therapy, neuroscience, etc. (Malchiodi, 2003, ix), getting involved with the practice of art making improves observation, hand and eye coordination, perception and brings in relaxation and reparation, overall well-being is observed due to the art’s nature of self-soothing (Malchiodi, 2003, 353).

In art as therapy it becomes difficult to provide dynamic therapeutic benefits as the client needs to have a rudimentary skill of making art (Nucho 2003: 14), similarly, clients without rudimentary skills of art making may face difficulty in producing their mental discrepancies in art psychotherapy (Nucho 2003: 14), and nothing happens without discourse (needs reference).

A further related problem of the art psychotherapy approach is that art work and observations are linked to comfortable explanations made by clients, these descriptions, nevertheless man stem from ignorance, insecurity, uncertainty, cover ups and disparity that a client might possess or poses. Miller without seeing any progress in mentally ill adults from insight-oriented art psychotherapy engaged them in loosely structured art activity which was more satisfying and rehabilitative (Kaplan 2000: 99). This means that in art psychotherapy the evidence supporting empirical research processes, adds little to what can be described, is difficult to disprove and often involves a circular explanation of the relation between art and psychotherapy. Such explanations are of little value, because they fail to enlarge upon what is already known and established in psychotherapy and keeps one in confusion regarding what art can provide more than the benefits of retrieving images for clinical psychology purpose. Not necessarily by means of art psychotherapy, but treatment would any way happen through psychotherapy counselling, as art psychotherapy strongly believes in discourse and its attributes, which leads one to question the subsistence of art psychotherapy concept.

Science fails to analyze why a person has depicted a certain image when the circumstance of action and depictions controls the mood and brings out false positive response from the client. Human beings are tuned to oppose the personality analysis whenever they feel discomfort, they refuse to open up or select to feed negatively. Rather than depicting the primary mood disorder, they prefer to depict unaccomplished desires, hoping for mercy and/or fulfillment. This leads to wrong assertion.

Crazy artists and suiciding psychologists

It appears to be too simple to say that art as therapy is therapy by itself, a self-healing process, or an auto reparative tool. Often the concept strikes to get to its point. For e.g., Regarding addiction and art, the disgraceful act of being addicted can be resolved by involving in art activities (Santora P. B., Dowell, M. L., Henningfield E (Ed), 2010, 6) these, points get blurred as we question what about those crazy drug addict artists who could not cure themselves in the procedure of creating artwork? Does art have self-healing capacities? Can a common man win through art where world renowned artists failed? These questions may make us turn back to psychology, but Tori DeAngelis[8] says “several studies support the idea that psychologists may have an elevated risk for suicidal ideation and behavior compared to general population”.

An astonishing percentage as high as 40 to 60 percent of psychologists faced disruption due to work load, anxiety and depression was reported by A 2009 APA survey, such instances affect clients and psychologists are insufficiently prepared to deal with distressed colleagues comes as a blow in the discipline of psychology. J. S. MAUSNER and R. C. STEPPACHER[9], conducted a study, where weirdly a doubtful, anxious and unsuccessful career were major reasons of psychologists committing suicide.

Later, the initial impact of being unsuccessful many people starts planning to die and psychologists are not left behind. Swiss psychiatrist Hermann Rorschach (1884–1922), whose ink blot test is prominently popular could not wait to see his work propel, with all the drawback of financial blockage, he reduced his inkblot prints to 10 numbers, the failure of his publication made him to die committing suicide. (Schultz, P, D, & Schultz, E, S, 2005: 19). Likewise, we have witnessed Suicides of noted psychologists Michael J. Mahoney, PhD, in 2006, and Lawrence Kohlberg, PhD, in 1987. Reference

As an example of addiction Freud encouraged cocaine and he himself was a cocaine user, his biographer Ernst Jones says Freud use to smoke up to twenty cigars a day in the process he developed cancer and begged his physicians to down him[10].

Further, what about the psychologists who suicide one after the other…. Why couldn’t they heal themselves as similar to artists who were not cured by their art at all? Did those artists with the process of art, live long being addicted rather than committing suicide?

Art definitely has something to present at least the urge to live. Dr Staricoff quotes Swedish research showing that “engagement with the arts is associated with longer life expectancy” (Staricoff, 2004, 2). What art can afford us and what we can obtain will remain unrevealed till we get pitched to this marvelous concept of art. Reward processing makes a specific contribution to the neural processing of visual art, that artistic status alone is enough to instantiate reward processing, and that the brain thus responds to art for art’s sake[11]. The art instinct therefore has been eternally planted in the heart of man. Art provokes happiness when one lives merrily, and when one is in pain, yet it provokes the happiness by removing the deep rooted grief of the soul, hence it is impossible to destroy the art and appreciation that is imbibed in a man (Davar F. C., 1935, 2).

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Without readiness, and self-preparedness any therapy would fail in producing beneficial results. What seems most important to remember is that the art made in therapy is not only a source of information for the therapist; it is also a mirror for the youngster, as Edith Kramer once wrote, “Paintings are valuable not so much because they can tell the adult something about the child, but also because the very act of creating helps the child to learn something new about himself. This process of self-discovery and self-acceptance through art is the core of art therapy” (Rubin, 2005, 120). Unclear and blur mental images become clear and meaningful during art therapy course (Rubin, 2005, 153) and this brain game is not possible, without client’s willingness and enthusiasm which is raised by the foreseen pleasure of creating art itself.

All these creative people and psychologists were all aware of their situations, an artist who is addicted need to divert his art activity into other courses of artwork; a psychologist with problems need to confer with other therapists. It was like a story of a fish which decided to lie in the same pond without caring for its spirit, though picked back, time and again, it got back to the same pond where there was no enough oxygen, it was the problem of that fish which cannot be generalized with all those fishes in the sea.

[1] Arts in health: a review of the medical literature- www.artscouncil.org.uk

[2] Jo Marie Reilly; Jeffrey Ring; Linda Duke. Visual Thinking Strategies: A New Role for Art in Medical Education, Fam Med 2005; 37(4): 250-2.

[3] Jasani SK, Saks NS. Utilizing visual art to enhance the clinical observation skills of medical students. Med Teach. 2013 Jul;35(7):e1327-31.

[4] Studies show that incorporating the arts can save money, improve the patient experience – and do a lot more. http://www.ucira.ucsb.edu/why-we-need-the-arts-in-medicine/

[5] Edward A. Vesse, G. Gabrielle Starr, and Nava Rubin, Art reaches within: aesthetic experience, the self and the default mode network, Front Neurosci. 2013; 7: 258.

[6] Lankston., Cusack., Fremantle., Isles, Visual art in hospitals: case studies and review of the evidence, J R Soc Med. Dec 1, 2010; 103(12): 490-499

[7] Daniel Gurnon, Julian Voss-Andreae, and Jacob Stanley, Integrating Art and Science in Undergraduate Education, PLoS Biol. Feb 2013; 11(2): e1001491.

[8] DeAngelis, Tori 2011: 19

[9] J. S. Mausner and R. C. Steppacher, Suicide in professionals: A study of male and female psychologists, http://aje.oxfordjournals.org/content/98/6/436

[10] http://psychology.about.com/od/sigmundfreud/tp/facts-about-freud.htm

[11] Simon Lacey., Henrik Hagtvedt., Vanessa M. Patrick., Amy Anderson., Randall Stilla., Gopikrishna Deshpande., Xiaoping Hu., João R. Sato., Srinivas Reddy., and K. Sathian. Art for reward’s sake: Visual art recruits the ventral striatum. Neuroimage. Mar 1, 2011; 55(1): 420–433.


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