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Art therapy: when art is a way to feel better

If it is with the advent of writing that we speak of the beginning of the history of mankind, it is also true that many thousands of years earlier, humans had already invented, or perhaps discovered, art. Yes, one can say that art is as old as man, one could almost say that art is part of man and humanity: we would not be men without art and there would not be art without men. Perhaps a triviality, or perhaps the explanation of why art therapy can be used in all its forms to cure various ailments.

Why is art therapy good for you

Art therapy is a practice that, through the creativity and emotionality of the patient, seeks to stimulate his ways of exposing himself and communicating. For this reason, the "weapons" used are drawing, painting, collage, simple colouring or sculpture. All this, of course, under the guidance of an accredited and prepared art therapist who can give meaning to any artistic exercise.

For art therapy, it is not only the production of works that should be considered, but also their fruition.

Admiring a painting or listening to a song, if properly guided, can be as effective as painting or sculpting. Patients learn to decode the non-verbal messages, symbols, metaphors and allegories "hidden" in each different work of art, which should in time lead to a better understanding of their feelings and behaviours so that they can solve the deepest problems of their self. In short, the art used to learn how to deal with the problems of life.
Among the first people to use art as a therapy there was Frield Ducker Brandeis, an Austrian artist and teacher of Jewish origin who lived between the two world wars. From 1934 to 1938 he was an art teacher for the children of the Prague ghetto; it is on this occasion that he had the opportunity to observe the way in which children used art to combat certain problems experienced in real life such as discrimination, trauma, grief and violence that some of them suffered. In 1942 she was deported to concentration camps where she taught hundreds of children with the aim of trying to restore balance to their lives using art.

What are the benefits of art therapy?

Art therapy can help everyone, from children to the elderly, even those who are not affected by particular disorders. A course of this kind helps to explore one's emotions, improve one's self-esteem, manage addictions, relieve stress, the symptoms of anxiety and depression and deal with a physical illness or disability.
In addition, art therapists work with individuals, couples or large and small groups in a variety of contexts: private counselling, hospitals, wellness centres, correctional institutions, old people's homes, schools and other community organisations.

No artistic talent is needed for art therapy to be successful. Many people let themselves be intimidated by their lack of creative or technical skills and choose other paths without imagining that in reality it is not necessary to have them.

This therapeutic process does not concern the artistic value of the work, but rather the search for associations between the creative choices made and the inner life of the patient.

The work of art can be used as a springboard to awaken memories and tell stories that can reveal messages of the unconscious, or as a simple way of communicating for those who, like people with autism, struggle to do so in the most conventional ways.

What does art therapy consist of?

According to the American Art Therapy Association, specialised therapists are trained to understand how the colours, texture and use of various art forms can help different patients with different needs. The patient learns to understand their thoughts, feelings and condition.
Art therapy integrates psychotherapy, therefore, with some forms of visual arts as a specific and autonomous form of therapy, but it can also be used in combination with other treatment pathways. The therapist must make sure that the patient can correct himself by limiting the interventions as much as possible and leaving him the right space to be able to find his own balance over time by applying to himself a form of self-discipline, induced discreetly and not imposed.

The case of Canada

Since November 1, 2018, Canada has been running a one-year trial project called The Art Hive. What is it about? For many, it is a decisive step towards spreading the use of art therapy as a form of help for those suffering from various diseases. Already these days, in fact, every Canadian doctor can prescribe, and not only suggest, to his patients a visit to a museum, an exhibition or an event. Any visit to the museum prescribed by a doctor will be totally free of charge for patients who decide to use the museum. Each visit to the museum prescribed by a doctor will be totally free for patients who decide to use it and is also provided for an escort and two minors, which means that an entire family could take advantage of the initiative. Now there is no data about the real effectiveness of this national choice but for the moment, however, the news has been generally welcomed, in the hope that this first step will mark a real revolution in the world of medicine.

Why is art therapy good for you?

  • Exploring one's emotions and improving one's self-esteem
  • Relieve stress and symptoms of anxiety and depression
  • Tackling a physical illness or disability
  • Does not require any artistic talent to be effective

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