Art Therapy – Using Modern Art for Health

The modern art can be used to procure health for infirm suffering from different ailments.  The performances and creation of drawings creatively communicate to the people, who might be emotionally disturbed.  In the traditional practices, the human race was seen to be primitive because the methods which were embraced to restore health were the conventional chemical drugs.  The understanding of the conscious and unconscious mind of people has emerged in the recent time, where physicians and other medical practitioners have embraced the need to understand the psychological well-being of the patients.  According to (Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine, 2008), art therapy typically allows patients to get some level of insight into their feelings and lets them constructively work through these issues.  Considerable emphasis is laid on the use of music and other forms of art such as drawing to relax the minds the patients to improve their recuperation.  (Cutler, David, 2011) further supports this ideology.

Although the therapeutic nature of the art has not entirely been integrated into the health system, there is a significant improvement compared to some ten years ago.  Only in recent years have systematic and controlled studies examined the therapeutic effects and benefits of the arts and healing (Staricoff, 2004).  The progress is expected to linearly increase with time, as the practitioners and other administrative departments continue to get awareness of such programs.  Numerous conflicting definitions of art therapy have been advanced since the discovery of the term in the year 1940.  The first individual who is widely recognized to have used the word Adrian Hill, who determined the positive impact of image drawing on health improvement.  He was suffering from tuberculosis, and he creatively employed his skills, to overshadow the misfortunes.  Through his discovery, he concluded that artistic work could be used to develop enormous strength against the adversities.  The incident was the preface to a plethora of findings from different theorist such as Freud, Carl Jung, and Klein.  However, there is need to create a definite boundary between art therapy and the commonly misunderstood concept of art education.

Schools today facilitate the learning of art as a subject with the aim of understanding it and its concepts.  Such learning is vital as students get a perspective into the world of producing art and thus gain knowledge, skills and an outlook towards the subject.  While education focuses on the production of art and its quality, therapy targets the experiences involved in the production process.  Emphasis is very much on the process of creation and exploration rather than the end product (Essame, 2010, p. 2).  It provides treatment both mentally and emotionally.  Its healing abilities have been associated with the conscious and unconscious elements.  The relationship between these two vital areas of mental and emotional development thus allow a person who is undertaking the process to use accompanied thoughts and feelings to solve their internal troubles and calm their minds.  Since the whole process involves nonverbalization, there is a higher success rate possibility as it caters for every variability among its patients.  Most important among these patients are children.  A child with underlying mental and emotional struggles will prove to be a rock if verbal communication is used as the mainstream for getting help.  Many children, like adults, often cannot broach the matters that most pain and shame them, no matter how accepting we clinicians are (Case & Dalley, 2014).  Therapists use art as a conventional and comfortable means to reach into their minds and assist them accordingly.  A practical understanding of the entire field can be elaborated by reviewing the concepts of some of the scholars in different phases of art development.

The history of Art therapy

In the early 20th Century.  The health practitioners became interested in the artworks which were created by patients who were mentally ill in the wards.  At the same period, various researchers were discovering the importance of children’s crafts that contributed to development, growth and knowledge advancement.  By the midcentury hospitals and other healthcare providing facilities integrated the system and at the first time the word ‘art therapy’ was used by a different assortment of writers.  Although they had little knowledge about it, they were guided by medical practitioners and analyst who had a profound inclination in finding more applicable methods to administer quality health care services.  The following paragraphs will discuss some of the acknowledged writers who developed and contributed mainly to the field.

Freud theory is built on the ground that within the psychological make of human beings, there exist both conscious and unconscious minds.  According to him, the structures which contain these thoughts are id and ego.  ID contains all desires of people, which evokes pleasure and in most instances, they are not satisfied.  On the other hand, the ego is stationed to regulate the instincts that emanate from external influence.  There is a constant pressure to balance between the two structures, which makes individuals to suppress their mind, hence resulting in frustrating situations. With unconscious dispositions reflection is possible once psychoanalytic interpretation brings unconscious thoughts into consciousness (Braddock, 2011).  Psychoanalytic theory suggests that the best way to strike a balance between the two different aspects is to make senseless mind conscious, through activities which are soothing and relaxing to the brain. 

Freud designed a method through which patients could disentangle themselves from the traumatizing experiences, which he classified as verbalization and transference.  Additionally, he further advanced his thinking by suggesting the method of sublimation to lower the pressure on the ego structure that is responsible for controlling the psyche.  Freud theory is based on the fact that deprivation of nurturance has detrimental effects on the people, in this case, the patients.  He hypothesizes that what the person is exposed to at early stages persist over an extended period.  Through music, performances, and drawings, an ill person can replace the bad though with the humor that comes along with these arts.  External factors have a direct implication on the period of recovery from an ailment and any problematic issue.

His work became foundational for most of the experts in the field, and he has even been coined the “grandfather of art therapy.”  With his design, Freud became among the first to distinguish between two types of unconscious thought; the preconscious and the unconscious.  Preconscious ideas are those that are latent and can become conscious while unconscious beliefs cannot be made aware without the assistance of psychoanalysis.  They are mostly repressed.  What distinguishes these two ideas is their connection to language.  Sigmund stipulated how within therapy there is need to communicate every idea despite it sounding unimportant or irrelevant.

 Doing this helps in transforming these abstract thoughts into real ideas and thus defines the concept of verbalization.  According to Freud, verbalization was detrimental in making a person aware of transference.  Transference refers to strong accommodated feelings of either type that one holds against a particular person or thing that are not justified by any reason.  Through transference, Freud stipulated that a person is made aware of their decisions and why they are likely to behave in the same manner in different familiar situations.  As a final step in his design, Sigmund Freud stated that sublimation was crucial in solidifying the new understanding into future decisions.  Sublimation involves the redirection of instinctual energy towards social goals.  It acts as the sophisticated ego defense system in case of a traumatic occurrence.

Freud`s work was taken up by a psychologist, Margaret Naumburg in the USA.  Her model involved the use of art in therapy.  Naumburg suggested the release of the unconscious ideas through extemporaneous art manifestation.  Based on the roots of Freud`s work, Naumburg`s model had a close relationship to the psychoanalytic theory. However, unlike other Freudian therapists, Naumburg did not support placing a strong emphasis on verbalization.  Instead, she had clients make art as an expression of their experiences (Junge, Asawa, & American Art Therapy Association, 1994, p. 159).  Patients passed their transference onto canvases and drawing books depicting a symbolic speech.  Naumburg`s stipulations might look conflicting when compared to pioneers like Adrian Hill who discovered the healing abilities of art.  However, it is crucial to understand that this distinction is fundamental in evolving the practice.  Naumburg`s model suggested and emphasized the healing potential in art while Hill`s defended the notion of a therapeutic triangle.  This triangle involves the art therapist, the patient and the artwork produced.  Verbalization was still an essential part of her model, working in tandem with symbolic communication.  The triangle becomes central in asking where therapeutic changes take place.  Some art therapist argues that a synthesis of the changing and subtle interactions between the creative process in art therapy, and the relationship existing between the art therapist and the patient. 

Carl Jung was yet another critical individual in the development of art as a therapeutic procedure.  Jung had an overreaching emphasis on the enormous potential and creativity residing within individuals in the society.  He emphasized how the unconscious was not a seething cauldron of primitive and threatening impulses and saw it as a potential source of both great peril and wisdom.  The Jungian analytical psychotherapy is an attempt to create utilizing a symbolic approach, a relationship between the unconscious and the conscious (Jung, In Adler, & In Hull, 1967).  To many experts, the Jungian approach spiritualized the world of nature, drive, and instinct.  Jung arrived at the view that it was through images that the most fundamental aspects of human experience and psychological life found expression (Edwards & Wilkins, 2014, p. 30).  He also insisted on the errors of analyzing the unconscious and substituting it with known conscious methods.  Jung`s work distinguished between the two kinds of the unconscious.  He believed that our personalities are organized by specific mental functions and attitudes that determine how we orient ourselves habitually or preferentially. Jungian analysis has individuation (transcendence or self-actualization) as its ultimate goal (Sommers-Flanagan, 2012, p. 21).  Concepts of introversion and extraversion come alive due to this sentiments.  From the Jungian theory, arose the creativity aspect in regards to the impact of art therapy.  Marion Milner, a distinguished psychoanalyst, deduced this theory.

Marion Milner primarily used doodling and painting for the goal of therapy.  Her work corresponds to the obligation of the art therapist to be familiar with artistic expressions.  Therapists who are unfamiliar with expressive therapies often wonder if these modalities have been used as a form of assessment (Malchiodi, 2007, p. 4).  Milner related the importance of the free drawing as a means to create art in the linking of inner and outer worlds.  To her, the illustrations did not only convey clues to the unconscious but also represented life problems through the concept of creativity. Milner`s study led her to believe that through a surrendered in-between state, an inanimate, unconscious human striving for an ideal state could be realized (Puckey, 2014).  Millner`s theory correlated individual components in the art to matters affecting the artists.  The theory purports the idea that drawing as a form of art connects some missing or conflicting aspects in an individual`s reality.  Also, she pointed out the relationship existing between external factors and their effect on the imagination.  Moreover, art as therapy took form in children, pioneered by Anna Freud in Vienna and Melanie Klein in Berlin.  Both women believed in the value of child`s play as therapy as a means of understanding and healing.

  Klein saw the child`s play in therapy as the equivalent of adult`s free associations and as a means of making interpretations directly to even very young children`s unconscious.  Her work mostly focused on what she perceived as the young child`s experience of abandonment, envy, and rage.  Klein believed that in play children represent fantasies, wishes, and experiences symbolically.  She perceived that in playing, children employed the same archaic and phylogenetically acquired mode of expression.  Klein`s work became foundational for other experts in the psychotherapy of children like Donald W. Winnicott.  Her interpretative technique was based, as with the adult, predominantly on the transference.  Transference in Klein`s work translated to suitable links made between current experiences, the child`s phantasies and its connection to external reality, present and past.  Klein`s approach to child psychoanalysis was new; a variance with the ethos involved in the rational understanding of children and thus controversial.  Her work with children confirmed first-hand some of Freud’s (Anna) views of childhood, which were in a way theoretical since they were based mainly on the analysis of adults.

Klein paved the way for yet another psychoanalyst, Donald Winnicott.  Winnicott produced case studies that exemplified the practice of play therapy as well as substantial theoretical contributions to play and imagination.  Winnicott derived his theory from previous clinical work that related a transitional object with a unique status vital in soothing children.  He theorized the importance of transitional objects on the relationship existing between a mother and a child.  The creation of a transitional object in children is perhaps the first genuinely creative act in children as it uses nothing but imagination to depict reality out of nothing.  His analysis suggested the development of a healthy false individual, depending on the quality of early care from an averagely caring maternal figure.  Furthermore, it supported the idea that the role of the mother was to help the illusion of a fused unity that was undifferentiated.  Play, therefore, has a significant role in allowing disillusionment where the child realizes its individuality.  A strong sense of identity is key to self-esteem, confidence, finding meaning and reason for living (Case & Dalley, 2014, p. 69).  Winnicott`s ideas differ from those of Jacques Lacan.  Donald`s ideas prioritized the function of transitional objects to define individuality.  Lacan, on the other hand, supported the use of other-ness as a key to dualism.

Contemporary forms of art therapy

Today, there is a need to apply the outstanding work done by such pioneers to help children with poor social and emotional health.  In the past decade, psychological problems have been shown to have a negative impact on the ability of a child to fulfill their developmental and educational potential.  A large percentage of children and adolescents in the UK suffer from clinical levels of emotional and behavioral problems (Saba, Byrne, & Mulligan, 2016).  There is dire need to facilitate the rehabilitation of such individuals as they are considered a risk to themselves and others.  As a result, an increasing number of interventions are being conducted in schools and are under various social agencies.  A case study investigated by (Sutherland, Waldman, & Collins, 2010) proves this.  This early intervention is meant to promote social and emotional health to the early stages of an individual`s life.  It should be noted, however, that the provision of such assistance does not end with the young.

Art therapy in schools

    These initiatives aim at improving the well-being of the children during their early years.  Since it is problematic to identify and assist these children from a home setting, schools provide a sufficient forum where such repressed issues can be solved.  Interventions vary with modality, scope, frequency, and intensity depending on the target population.  Many of these programs focus mainly on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) techniques.  For children, art has been found to be an essential outlet for solving mental and psychological issues.  The notion supported by   Studies into art therapy have found out that it helps in improving children`s verbal and creative thinking, reading and comprehension and self-perception of motivation and mastery in the classroom.  Children’s drawing abilities can be nurtured to enhance their communication skills (Asim, 2012).  The symbolic images that are generated allow students a capacity to express feelings and ideas regarding psychological conflicts and life experiences that are too emotionally loaded for verbal communication (American Art Therapy Association, 2011).  School counseling is a crucial element in successfully integrating art therapy.  The introduction of art education in the curriculum is essential in providing a venue for mainstreaming education students designated to acquire art therapy as a related service. (Isis, Bush, Siegel, & Ventura, 2010) compiled a report indicating how the introduction of this form was successful in the Miami-Dade schools.

In the health department, various forms of art therapy have been implemented.  According to the American Art Therapy Association (AATA), the use of art as a therapeutic procedure produces revolutionary results.  Children with autism use art as a means of communication; children with deficit disorders indicate improved focus and those with cancer soothed by it (American Art Therapy Association, 2011).  Trauma can also be countered with newer forms of art therapy.  By facing their Jungian shadow, individuals with trauma realize that whatever they depicted as fears, are not scary anymore.  Numerous case studies have supported the process and have suggested that art as therapy benefits patients with both emotional and physical illnesses. Studies in adults have also indicated improvement in general perspective.  These have been done on individuals going through the loss of a loved one, addiction, and other medical complexes.

Expressive art has over the years evolved as instigated by (Learmonth, 2009).  Activities like drawing emotions, meditative painting, putting together journals and line art are just some of the improved method provided by psychotherapists today.  There are also fields that have integrated these procedures like music and dance to fulfill the goal of settling emotional and mental issues.  There are some uncommon but growing forms of healing through art like poetry and bibliotherapy, sandplay therapy and other integrative processes (Malchiodi, 2007, p. 3).  Creative expression can make a powerful contribution to the healing process and has been embraced in the society.  Throughout recorded history, people have used pictures, stories, dances, and chants as healing rituals (Graham-Pole & Adams, 2000).  Favorable outcome is visible for the use of art to promote healing.  Through art therapy, self-expression, feelings, and emotions are developed.  Furthermore, art therapy builds on personal independence and self-reliance and ensures that adequate techniques to self-image are employed.  There is, however, need to research and understand the use of art in healing, in the areas of anxiety control, improving recovery time, advancing communication and pain control.


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