The therapeutic nature of art: Therapists discuss how expression helps with emotions, trauma

Deb Hurley Brobst
dbrobst@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 10/21/22

Art therapy is something people can practice every day. Simply as a method of expression, or when mental health is at stake, art therapy is a good tool for therapists to use.

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The therapeutic nature of art: Therapists discuss how expression helps with emotions, trauma

Posted

Art therapy is something people can practice every day. Simply as a method of expression, or when mental health is at stake, art therapy is a good tool for therapists to use.

“Art provides so much of an outlet for us to express our emotions,” said Lisa Nierenberg, executive director of Center of the Arts Evergreen, as she wrapped up a recent panel discussion on youth mental health. “Art really matters and makes a difference.”

She pointed to CAE’s youth art shows during the pandemic in which the youth spoke through their art about their anxiety, loneliness and depression.

“We said, ‘How did we miss this?’” she told the audience at the gallery.

Art therapy can be like a geyser for people, and it can tap into parts of the brain people didn’t know existed.

“We all have emotions — there’s nothing wrong or bad — and what do we do with them,” explained Evergreen therapist Heather Aberg. “The power to be creative is inside of everybody. Everybody thinks of art as what is on the wall here (at the CAE gallery), but more importantly, it is a release of emotions.”

Those working in art therapy are a mix of artists and mental health professionals, explained Jasmine Chu, arts coordinator of the Ponzio Creative Arts Therapy Program at Children’s Hospital Colorado.

“The hybrid nature gives this new opportunity for healing in such a unique and powerful way,” she explained.

Art therapist Meagan Andersen suggested that therapists can use self-portraits to help people, especially youth, reconcile themselves with past trauma. The first drawing is of the youth in the trauma followed by where the youth is now. The final drawing is how they picture themselves moving past the trauma, and she noted that it was shocking how they have a difficult time picturing the third phase.

“Trauma is something we become comfortable with and live with,” Andersen said, “and getting out of it is terrifying.”

The therapists said adult coloring books can be healing, and one suggested that she has encouraged nurses, for example, to use markers to draw on raw eggs to air their frustrations and then smash the eggs. Some art mediums, they explained, are less threatening such as scribble drawing.

“For me, just everything I do at Children’s Hospital comes back to one question: How can we use art to make the biggest impact for kids, for families, for staff,” Chu said.

Art can be therapeutic just by children viewing it because they see they’re not alone or different, the therapists said. It also allows them to see potential futures.

Art serves people in many ways, said Katherine Reed, manager and art therapist with the Ponzio Creative Arts Therapy Program.

“It can be a tool for respite, inspiration, a source of joy, a way to connect with other people and or community in a deeper way,” Reed said. “Art is their window into what is happening.”

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