Guest View: Using art to improve mental well-being | Editorial

When people think of ways to cope through difficult life events it usually looks like the more common methods of talking to a trusted friend or family member, exercising, deep breathing, and sometimes seeking out therapy. One of the coping skills that people tend to overlook is using art. Art therapy is another unique approach to channeling your inner feelings, emotions, stress and trauma.

Art therapy is a unique approach to channeling inner feelings, emotions, stress and trauma through mediums such as painting, sculpting, poetry, creative writing, music and photography. The use of art as a form of therapy can help to build self-awareness and coping skills, increases self-esteem and confidence, improves cognitive and motor function, reduces stress and strengthens communication and social skills.

Centerstone’s Peer Support Services offers various creative activities, including participation in the Healing Arts Project, Inc., (HAPI), a not-for-profit organization providing opportunities for people with mental health challenges and addiction recovery to promote healing, community awareness and inclusion. Centerstone’s peer support activities help create a safe and inclusive environment where individuals with mental health challenges or substance use disorders can work toward goals with other peers while participating in learning and leisure activities.

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Some of the activities include art contests, visiting art museums and specific art shows, decorating facilities with client art, professional art instruction and the opportunity to sell art pieces through HAPI. The overall goal for those who utilize art as a form of therapy is to grow by gaining confidence and developing future skills that will aid mental health challenges or substance use disorders.

It is important to understand that some people might not benefit from traditional therapy, and that is why it is encouraged for people to explore options that might better suit them. If you question the impact of traditional therapy, here are some of the benefits of finding a creative outlet such as art therapy:

Alleviates symptoms. Taking the time to focus on art might help ease your anxiety, depression, and stress. Practicing art and channeling your emotions can help to alleviate some of your symptoms and increase a development in positive coping skills and art technique.

Increases confidence. For some clients it might be more difficult to vocalize their feelings or even be vocal at all, and art is another way to be expressive with feelings. Another reason for creating art is the reward of seeing it displayed — seeing your own work complete and displayed can really boost your confidence which is great for you and your art!

Social connection. One of the great things about Centerstone’s Peer Support Services and other similar programs is that you can create art individually or you can do it in a group. Regardless of your preferred method, you get to meet other individuals, create lasting, supportive friendships and learn from professionals about different art techniques.

Enhances focus. Most of the time when we are so enveloped by creating things like art, we lose track of time and are beginning to enhance our focus skills with our artwork. This type of focus is good for us when we are trying to relax and find peace within ourselves and just enjoy creating art.

If you find yourself trying to cope with difficult emotions, and traditional forms of therapy haven’t given you the result you are looking for, ask a mental health professional about art as means to recovery. They can provide more tools on how to manage your mental health challenges and other tips for coping.

Benjamin Overby is a Peer Support Services Team Lead at Centerstone, a not-for-profit health system specializing in mental health and substance use disorder services.

Robert G. Mull

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