Originally used to help soldiers treat PTSD after World War I, art therapy has long been used to help people cope with stress, anxiety, and important fine motor skills. Practicing simple art exercises for no other purpose other than to explore and have fun can help people process traumas and unlock a more positive mindset that produces numerous mental and physical health benefits.
Art therapy allows for a safe space to channel energy, and it gives people the opportunity to express themselves in a non-harmful, yet creative way. Some people move towards creating places of escape, something that many of the soldiers exhibited, while others tend to create places that are familiar, and safe. The creation depends on the psyche and the situation, but everyone from young children to the aged can benefit from the therapeutic action of creating art in many forms.
Some studies even suggest that art therapy can even reduce pain and improve quality of life for those battling life-threatening diseases such as cancer. The theory is that it shifts the focus away from the pain suffered and channels it into a new direction. By nature, seniors tend to experience loneliness, depression, and low self-esteem, but regular art exploration can help provide comfort, joy, and inspiration when it is needed most.
How Does Art Therapy Work?
The American Art Therapy Institution deems art therapy as a form of therapy that integrates creativity, mental health, and applied psychological theory. The therapeutic ideologies and theories that influence how art therapy is applied draw on Freud’s psychodynamic theory. The neurologist and founder of psychoanalysis theorized that forces or experiences outside of our awareness influence our behavior and shape our personality. Creating art can be a subconscious action, and it allows us to reach deep into the recesses of our minds without realizing it.
In today’s world, there are many different contexts within which art therapy can be used, and the activity is usually adjusted to an individual’s needs. Exploring art is something that not every senior will have had the opportunity to do growing up and can therefore help them express their thoughts and emotions in ways that other activities cannot. It gives them a place to play without expectations and be proud of what they create.
But art exploration can be structured, too – many people like to use tutorials for how to draw or paint basic, familiar objects, such as an eye or a hand. This can heighten observational skills, increase mental focus, and create a sense of calmness that lonely or frustrated seniors can greatly benefit from. It also allows seniors to learn new skills – something that many feel they’d outgrown or were simply too old for. For seniors suffering with memory loss art therapy can also be an incredible tool to tap into memories or recollections. Once again, this highlights how Freud’s psychodynamic theory forms the basis of art therapy’s ideologies.
How Can Seniors Benefit From Art Exploration?
There are a range of proven benefits to art exploration, regardless of age or state of health. Being given the time, space, and resources to connect with your inner artist is a special experience that seniors do not have every day, boosting their confidence and fostering creativity when life gets too much. The aim of art therapy and exploration is to stimulate the mind and body through creative play. It can also serve as an unconventional method of communication and self-expression for seniors that have Alzheimer’s or PTSD.
In some cases, it’s theorized that seniors suffering from specific ailments, illnesses, or degenerative conditions are reluctant to express themselves using words, even when they’re still capable of doing so. Art therapy can provide a facsimile of communication and engagement when verbal conversation either isn’t possible, or it’s too uncomfortable. In the same way that art therapists use art to help children through trauma and to gain insight into an upsetting incident or event, the art that seniors create can share a story too. Art therapy has proven to be a successful medium for assisting people in opening up, sharing their feelings, and expressing their innermost thoughts without having to speak a word.
Even something as simple as a piece of paper and some craft paints can give seniors the opportunity to express themselves in a safe environment, nourishing their mental and emotional states through community, creativity, and learning a new skill. But there are also so many types of art to explore, and multiple mediums. Art therapy isn’t limited to drawing or painting either. Sculpting, beadwork, making jewelry, mosaic, pottery, and other crafts are all beneficial in their own ways too.
Some therapists and medical professionals believe that different types of art therapy offer different benefits. The theory being that some types of art require greater cognitive ability than others, while some are more relaxing and meditative. Aging can bring with it a loss of vision or hearing too. So, the type of art chosen can help to alleviate frustrations this may cause and provide a positive outlet for emotions that would otherwise remain bottled up. For seniors, a mix of relaxing painting and the focus required by an activity such as beadwork can stimulate different parts of the brain and provide different outlets for creativity.
Bring Positivity Back Into Senior’s Lives
More and more, older adults are reporting high levels of stress and anxiety. Having a “negative” mindset might seem easy enough to change, but seniors living in old age homes or with debilitating diseases, depression and high stress levels are understandably quite difficult to treat. Art therapy is a relatively simple way of introducing a way to channel emotions, socialize, and potentially communicate too.
Many of the seniors living under hospice care are grieving the loss of friends, partners, or family members. Feeling isolated and lonely is not abnormal for seniors, but that is all the more reason to give them tools such as art and creativity to find positivity once more. A trained art therapist can use their knowledge to guide seniors in a way that allows them to express themselves fully, and to regain a sense of balance in their lives.
About the Writer
Jacqueline Edwards is a former health coach and after taking some time out she stepped into writing as a career. Now, she’s writing articles on health, wellness and motivation. Away from work, she’s bringing up her growing family and also looking after a menagerie of pets. In any free time she has, she volunteers for a number of mental health charities.