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Benefits of Creative Self Expression through Visual Arts

By Cindy Paauw, LCSW

It’s already June, that means, the 4th Annual Cohen Clinic at Centerstone Community Art Show will be here before you know it. As we prepare and plan here at the clinic, we’re reminded of how powerful and healing the arts can be. It was in a community room art class, after all, that we saw faces light up and smiles brighten after given the chance to create a masterpiece. It’s why we want to honor the talents of veterans and military families through our annual show in the first place. So what are the real benefits of artistic expression? Who better to ask than our very own resident artist, licensed clinical social worker, Cindy Paauw.

I cannot begin to emphasize the benefits I’ve personally experienced and those in my practice who have found healing and gain insights into their internal world through the arts. Let’s start with two very common misconceptions; “myths” and blocking beliefs some may have about engaging in the process of creative self-expression.

“I’m not an artist, it’s not for me”

“I’m not _____ enough” (insert whatever belief/judgment you have about yourself pertaining to art; i.e: creative, artistic, talented, colorful…”

Let me just start by saying, yes, you are an artist, and yes, you are good/creative enough. You may have standards of what a “good” artist is and that therefore you have concluded you do not meet these standards. Everyone was born an artist and drawn to the process of creating things. Give any child under the age of 5 crayons and paper; they will draw, create, scribble and fill the pages. I do this with all children I’ve seen in my practice as a therapist, as it often serves as a window to their world. It is not until we reach a point somewhere in our development that we start to compare ourselves to others, when judgment starts to seep into our thinking brains, stunting our growth as creators and little humans with vivid imaginations. Through the creative arts healing process, you will have the opportunity to be reconnected to this inner child, this part of yourself that you lost along the way. It’s a judgment free zone, and truly, it’s for everyone.

Benefit #1: Art is good for the brain

Merging the world of Art and therapy often works so beautifully because there is just so much we are able to say with words. Art can access parts of our brain; feelings, sensations and memories the “top” down process of talk therapy often could not. Art allows us to make new connections; through incorporating the practice of art into our lives, we can build neural pathways. The “bottom up” process of art can make way for parts of our subconscious to resurface. Art then becomes an integrative process, we now have words and imagery that describe and represent our lived experiences.

Benefit #2: Stress relief and mindfulness

There is great therapeutic value in the process of creating. If we learn to not focus on the product of our creation, but rather the process, we will find a sense of freedom and relief. Art becomes a mindfulness practice when we simply notice (without judgment) what comes up with every brush/pencil stroke, the lines we draw, the colors and images that surface, how various mediums we experiment with have a different feel and how we swiftly move from one part of the canvas/paper to the other

Benefit #3: Encourages self-exploration and esteem building

We will find that some mediums/media speak to us in ways that some may not. Through experimenting with various forms of art, we will ultimately find the medium that most resonates with us. Not all of us will like to work with oil paints (I certainly do not), some of us may be more drawn to graffiti, sculpting or digital art (3D printing art is a thing now too!). When we allow ourselves to try new things with an open mind, we will ultimately land somewhere and find our “niche”. When this happens, we will develop a felt sense of competency.

Benefit #4: Alleviates symptoms of anxiety and depression

Research confirms that creating and engaging in the arts releases the chemical dopamine, the “feel-good” neurotransmitter. Many individuals with anxious and depressive symptoms can find relief and healing through art. I often encourage “artist” clients to start an art journal following 3 steps, “create, date, and relate (write down associated emotions)”. Many clients have found progression in their day to day symptoms through this process.

Benefit #5: Promotes post traumatic growth

Look up any great, renowned artist in history and they are likely to have a story; adversities they’ve endured and how they have found healing and meaning through creative self-expression. Art can be a space where you can share your story of trauma and resilience. Your art can be the method in which your story is told. You can feel a felt sense of being seen and heard. Through your art, and inspiring others, you can find growth and meaning.  As one of my favorite artists, Frida Kahlo put it “At the end of the day, we can endure much more than we think we can”.

By Cindy Paauw, LCSW

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