The Power of Art Therapy in Difficult Times

The Power of Art Therapy in Difficult Times
Find therapists best matched to your needs. Always free and confidential.
Find therapists best matched to your needs. Always free and confidential.

These are difficult times, and art therapy can help. At the time of this writing, as we rush headlong into the holidays, we find ourselves confronting the Omicron variant, the latest chapter in the global crisis saga that is COVID-19.

After surviving two years of uncertainty, financial instability, loss of social connection, and re-entry into our personal and work lives, we are all in one way or another, needing to dig deeper for the resilience necessary to cope.

While we as a global community have been living through this unprecedented extended crisis, each individual person continues to do their best to get on with the business of life. Even on a good day, this can be hard to manage!

For people who live with any kind of pre-existing illness—whether physical or emotional—it takes that much more energy and effort to adjust to the new normal, never mind returning to in-person work and social events. It gets harder and harder to deal with the stress of our jobs, especially if our workplace is affected by toxic stress or understaffing.

And now, like clockwork, the shortening of the days and looming winter holidays may seem like the last straw of our coping skills. This is especially true if we have any sort of complicated relationships with our family members.

Whether your family is affected by adoption issues, emotionally immature parents, grief, ideological conflict, or relatives who don’t know the meaning of boundaries, you might be feeling like you could use a little extra support right about now.

And, since you’ve found your way here, you might be wondering—could art therapy help me?

In my two decades of practicing art therapy, I’ve been privileged and humbled to witness many people healed and transformed by the power of art in the following ways:
  • Developing more compassion and understanding for themselves and others
  • Overcoming blocks that keep them from enjoying intimacy in their relationships with friends and loved ones
  • Becoming more resilient to cope with both physical and emotional pain
  • Developing new neural pathways that transform the way their minds work and connect to their bodies
  • Changing the unconscious messages they tell themselves
  • Marshalling the courage to take positive action in their lives
  • Transmuting fear, anger, grief and sadness into belonging, kindness, and strength
  • Connecting spiritually through catharsis, flow, experiences of awe and shared humanity

For many years, I worked with individuals who struggled with severe trauma, mental health diagnoses, were in recovery from substance use, and were currently/previously unhoused.

These issues, painful and destabilizing as they are, were unfortunately compounded by the social stigma surrounding them. My clients arrived in therapy with every reason to feel alienated from society, and no reason to trust and feel comfortable being themselves.

I established a therapeutic space that came to be known for deep communication that transcended language—a distinct advantage in a setting whose population reflects the rich diversity of languages in New York City.

It was a space that was comforting and homey, where people could relax and feel inspired to open up and be their authentic selves, secure in the knowledge that they would be truly seen and duly heard through their art. That is why there the power of art therapy in difficult times to help you heal is real.

What people find doing art therapy with me is deep understanding and the tools to convey what is most important to them.

My clients start therapy weighed down by their traumatic experiences—whether they were single, catastrophic events or more common incidents—buried in difficult emotions, isolated by their memories, feeling uniquely flawed, shamed, and reluctant to reveal themselves.

Over time in treatment, they blossom into the relationship, they feel lighter and freer, moved to open up about their deepest feelings and most intimate selves. They come to understand that their pain is the same pain that all people experience, that it’s normal to feel what they feel.

More importantly, they realize that those feelings are manageable, and that it’s possible to open themselves up to happiness, fulfillment and joy. When clients graduate from therapy, they are positively glowing with a sense of belonging, the desire to express themselves, and belief in their intrinsic value as human beings.

People across all spectrums of neurodiversity, socio-economic background, age, ability, gender/sexual identity, and culture of origin are able to access the benefits of art therapy.

The creative process provides a container for us to join together in coping with the fear and uncertainty of life, the disconnectedness, marginalization, and isolation that comes with having difficult life experiences. This is part of the power of art therapy in difficult times to help you heal.

Through shared introspection, validating our experience of awe, being moved by artistic expression and sharing our personal stories, we are more capable of intimacy, embracing the full experience of life, compassion for ourselves and others, and taking positive action in our lives.

We experience catharsis, new neural pathways forming, dopamine rush, deep listening and deep observation, integration of the mind and body, a sense of purpose, an outlet for expression, critical thinking, and understanding others’ perspectives.

We have a chance to honor, mourn, see crises through the lens of kindness, and build resilience.

If any of these things sound like what you need right now, you might be interested in further exploring the possibilities of art therapy with me. I offer a free 15-minute phone consultation. There is no obligation if you find you’re not ready to start, and I’d be happy to answer all your questions.

If there is one thing I want you to take away from this article, it is the power of art therapy in difficult times to help you heal.

“I found I could say things with colors and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way—things I had no words for.”

Georgia O’Keefe

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