The arts and art therapy - not a cure-all but its benefits cannot be overlooked
01 October, 2023
This blog post was written for the College's celebration of Black History Month 2023.
Mental health is an important aspect of everyone’s well-being. Mental health treatment has evolved over the years, now with the inclusion of art therapies. The arts can be a creative way of exploring the inner self, that other therapies cannot get to easily. As such, art can be a means of nurturing and/or healing the mind. It can be a way of helping an individual be self-expressive. Thereby personalising their choice of art medium, to aid them in developing skills to deal with their mental health challenges.
From visual art like drawing, painting, and photography, to performing arts like music, theatre, dance, and many more. There is something for everyone. It can help relieve stress and allow emotional release, self-expression, and exploration of creativity. Bringing a sense of achievement and empowerment to those utilising it.
The arts can improve mental health in a variety of ways. Primarily, it creates a sense of community for those participating. This not only provides an environment for participants to meet new people, but it also contributes to the alleviation of loneliness among them.
I have met many people who credit arts like painting clubs and theatre groups to help them feel less alone. They share that it allows them to have something regular to look forward to. It is amazing to think that something as simple as a painting club that meets 1 hour a week, could have such a large and positive impact on someone’s life. The arts can improve confidence and resilience and give many people a sense of purpose. This provides insight into why social prescribing is such an invaluable resource in helping patients improve their mental health and social welfare.
In addition to creating a sense of community, the arts are a great way for people to express themselves. It can create an outlet to share inner experiences and complex emotions, that might sometimes be difficult to verbally express. It provides focus and can help people channel their feelings into their chosen medium.
Unfortunately, in the black community, the arts have been used to cope with horrific life experiences, such as slavery and racial segregation, as well as many other challenges. Now, those experiences are more commonly felt through unconscious biases, that would undoubtedly impact the mental health of those experiencing it.
The arts have consistently been used to manage the psychological and emotional fallout of these events. Visual art, music and poems were very common methods for previous generations to share their struggles and plights. Music genres like the blues and art forms, like pottery and sculptures, are evidence of these methods.
In modern times, the black community use music genres like rap and poem forms like spoken word to express themselves similarly to the generations before them. The arts are ingrained into the black community and are still used to express the heavy emotions that modern-day biases generate.
That’s why it is important for us to encourage those experiencing mental or emotional challenges, to find an outlet to convey those feelings. This is particularly important within the black community, where there is still a stigma surrounding mental health and accessing help. Providing strategies to channel and deal with those experiences in a more non-traditional and creative way, may motivate people within the community to reach out more.
The arts and art therapy are not a cure-all, but its benefits cannot be overlooked. Its ability to boost mood and help people get through difficult times is one to be appreciated. As a medical student, there are times when I feel overwhelmed and need a break from academic responsibilities. Crocheting and painting with friends or reading books are my favourite ways to wind down and have a break from any stress I may be experiencing. It allows me to come back to my studies and work, feeling refreshed and more motivated. I know that many of my colleagues feel similarly.
The power of the arts in boosting mental health and wellbeing is one that we should not take for granted, but instead take advantage of, because the benefits are invaluable.