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Creative Arts: A Holistic Approach to Healing

by Heather Caton, MSW

Healing is not so much as something that happens, it is about more than that; it’s the recognition of wholeness, within our selves, others and the environment. It is an understanding that health is connected with the physical, emotional, social and spiritual. The use of the creative arts is a holistic approach to healing.

Each year in the United States, an estimated 80,000 people are hospitalized with a traumatic brain injury (TBI). These individuals can experience long and short-term problems such as, memory loss; concentration, judgment, organization and the injury can limit their ability to live independently. Those who are living with a brain injury often need services to help them compensate, to relearn lost skills and to integrate back into the community.

As a Creative Arts Therapist, at a day program for adult survivors of brain injury, the use of Creative Arts is a holistic approach to healing and recovery. It is important in my work that I continually read, analyze, and evaluate research that exists about interventions using the Arts and the methods by which these interventions are implicated. It aids me in my work in becoming a critical thinker, evaluator, and an educator as well as being able to empower others. This includes questioning, searching, analyzing, application and evaluating. All these pieces become important working effectively with a client. It is more than just one single sided approach but becomes multi-faceted, it becomes, “wholistic.”

A holistic or "wholistic” approach is one that addresses all parts of the individual, not just the physical aspect of a person. When working with those with brain injury, holistic healing is not intended to serve as a band-aid, it is an ongoing journey of discovery and ultimately; increasing the overall well-being and quality of ones life. When using holistic methods of healing, if we say that human beings exist on at least five levels - body, feelings, intellect, transpersonal self and spirit, then we have to consider and work with all five levels in order heal, recover and reach higher potential. Holistic healing is really a lifestyle approach. The holistic approach goes beyond the mind-body connection of finding and maintaining wellness.

What is Creative Arts Therapy? Creative Arts Therapy is using Art as a vehicle of exploration and healing when working with a client. The Creative Arts involves the use of different materials through which a client can express. These materials may include but are not limited to, drawing, painting, clay, sand, theater, music, the list goes on.

How does Creative Art Therapy work? One example would be that often times with brain injury, a survivor may have loss of speech capabilities. Art is a universal language that transcends language barriers and cultural differences. Using art as a way of communicating allows the work to become a springboard to begin conversations using images; to express feelings and thoughts, ideas and goals. It becomes a non-invasive and supportive way to work through issues and concerns.

Another example is that brain injury survivors may also have loss of fine motor skills; art offers a variety of opportunities to redevelop these skills. For example, a client that that has a hard time opening a closing their hand would benefit from squishing and molding clay. It is the capacity of art to be a bridge between the inner world and outer reality, between unconscious and conscious, past, present and future.

What are some of the benefits of using a Creative Arts Approach?

· Using art as a means of communication and self expression

· Images are less threatening than using only words and talking

· Using art may be an easier way to express emotions

· Re-engagement with an individual's creative abilities - a process that encourages exploration and emotional growth

· Relaxation and stress relief

· Confidence building, self-validation, realization of one's potential

· Freedom to make decisions and experiment/test out ideas creatively

· Insight, self-awareness, self reflection

· Creative problem solving

· Regaining everyday living skills

Creative Arts Therapy is a holistic approach to healing and recovery that uses not only the physical senses of sight, sound, touch, smell, taste, but a whole person, body, feelings, intellect, transpersonal self and spirit through music, painting, theater, pottery, what ever the medium. I am interested in integration, by integration I mean all the parts; after all, our parts are what make us whole. Through the Creative Arts, the various parts of the person can get to know each other better, accept each other more, and change in that process. This is not a process of subordinating all the various tendencies in the person to one overall control; it is more like a harmony and balance.

A well-known term in holistic healing methods is, “self-actualization.” Self-actualization is finding ones own meaning and truths; it can be accomplished though a creative connection when working with a survivor of brain injury. Getting in touch with the deepest truths within us is a cornerstone to those who use this approach. Creative Art’s can help a client discover external expression into their inner world. Carol Roger’s felt that every person has a tendency to develop ways that serve to maintain or enhance the self. Buhler called this self the, “center core” of a person; it is a place of creativity and goal setting.

In the Creative Arts Therapy, there is an emphasis on genuineness, positive regard and empathy. An environment needs to be created and conditions, that will allow a client to look inward, become mindful of their strengths, and bring balance to their thoughts and behavior. A Creative Arts approach can be an important piece in brain injury recovery. Art provides a place to identify personal truths facilitated by metaphor. Drawing provides another way for the nonverbal parts of the self to be expressed. It is a safe way to explore, become aware, and deal with deeper issues. Art can be particularly helpful for those clients that have experienced trauma. A goal is to encourage clients to be an active part of their process. The client is encouraged to value their thoughts and feelings and to gain awareness that creates positive change.

Through the use of Art, feelings and emotions come from the unconscious and are seen in imagery rather that words. This is helpful when language is restrictive or memories of an experience are buried deep. Using Art is a resolution to dealing with issues. It allows a place for the client to approach their feelings and emotions without overwhelming them. The Creative Arts, as a method of healing, focus is on retrieving a sense of self, and with brain injury this may be a new self. In many cases the client feels disconnected from their body art can help to connect. Guided imagery can be powerful because it allows for greater freedom of exploration. Each person, within himself or herself, has the strength to grow, change, experience self-actualization and have positive regard. An environment is created that is conducive for the client to discover, experiment, and explore. There is a feeling of safety and it is the client that can alter self-concepts, attitudes, and develop coping strategies. Recently, we have been working with the healing power of Mandalas, which translates into “circle.” The Mandala becomes a metaphor of inner self and allows focus and centering. We have taken a look at the use of Madalas throughout history and cultures. Members we encouraged to look inside them selves and create their own Mandala. All these will be put together collectively in a hanging quilt.

While a holistic approach may be seen as a softer approach to healing, it thrives on the whole person, body, intellect, feelings, and spirit. Every person is a unique human; a product of their experiences and how they perceive them is also distinctive. Art is a nonverbal way of approaching all parts of ones whole self, leaving room to explore and express, art serves as a path to healing and recovery.

Learn more: http://wisdomart.com/living-thorugh-art-foundation.html

Art Work on Cover: Natasha Williams (Hickok Center For Brain Injury)

Related links: www.hickokcenter.org/

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