Article: How Creative Arts Can Help Dealing w/ Mental Illness

How Creative Arts Can Change the Way People Deal with Mental Illness
by Aneri Pattani, Posted: November 5, 2018

Excerpt courtesy of the Philadelphia Inquirer…



A crack in the wall. Most people wouldn’t even notice it. But for Danielle Hark, it was a spark of inspiration.

Six months after giving birth to her first daughter in 2010, Hark, a writer and photographer from Millburn, N.J., fell into a severe depression. Getting out of bed became impossible. Anxiety struck whenever she considered leaving the house. Thoughts of suicide loomed.

One day in the shower, she suddenly felt she couldn’t breathe. “I thought I was dying,” she recalled. “I didn’t need to kill myself because I was about to be dead.”

Hark reached for her phone to call for help, but accidentally snapped a photo instead. Then she noticed the crack and thought, “That would make a good picture.”

“Just that one thought and just that one breath helped me to become more present,” she said.

Photography didn’t cure her depression, but it started her on a journey of recovery — one that she continues today. Taking photographs gets her out of the house, engaging with the world around her, and transforming things that some see as ugly — crumbling paint, cracks in a sidewalk — into art.

Hark has founded a website for photographers affected by mental illness, hoping to raise awareness and encourage others to document their recovery. On Nov. 10, she’ll be sharing her story at the debut of a chamber music ensemble focused on mental health.

It’s one of a growing number of creative endeavors that are bringing mental health center stage. Most of these initiatives — from theater performances to local art shows — aim to create awareness. But for those with mental illness, such as Hark, who stand at the center of these works as performers and creators, the process becomes a path to healing. It’s not a cure, but it provides a sense of control over their lives that can sometimes feel lost.

Research shows that engaging in creative-arts therapy — which can include visual arts, dance, theater, and poetry — can reduce pain and anxiety, help people cope with depression and trauma, and aid in treatments for addiction.

Performing in a play or taking photos is not the same as taking part in creative-arts therapy, said Rachel Brandoff, coordinator of the art-therapy specialization in counseling at Thomas Jefferson University, but “it’s a parallel process in many ways.” Creative-arts therapy involves a trained professional who guides and interprets the work. But engaging in a creative work on one’s own can still help people find purpose, better understand their emotions, and connect with others.

“People can have a really powerful and transformative experience even if it’s not therapy,” Brandoff said.

Over the years, Hark has used…


10 Ways Art Therapy Can Improve Your Mood

Patients who receive a neurological or neuropsychological evaluation from a CNNH expert may receive a treatment recommendation for Creative Arts Therapy, including: music therapy, dance/movement therapy or art therapy. Some might think this a curious treatment option coming from a brain health expert, but, in fact, Art Therapy is internationally recognized as an intervention for a wide range of clinical diagnoses, including (but not limited to): ADHD / cognitive disorders and dementia / autism spectrum disorders / epilepsy / anxiety and mood disorders / trauma-related disorders / PTSD / traumatic brain injury.

Modalities for this therapeutic intervention are selected based on each individuals’ interests, such as drawing, painting, sculpture, writing, collage and much more! Consider these ways Art Therapy might improve the mood of someone you love…

  • Helps re-activate pleasure centers in the brain
    Experiences that engage the senses, such as art-making can activate the release of pleasure-related neurotransmitters in the brain, such as dopamine, reinforcing art as a mood-enhancing experience.
  • Boosts self-esteem and promote sense of self-worth
    Making an artistic creation in real space can reinforce confidence in abilities and skills that can then translate to other situations and settings outside of art therapy. Seeing a physical product that you have created with your own two hands can encourage feelings of self-worth and control over your environment.
  • Reduces physical stress and tension by serving as a cathartic outlet
    The physical manipulation of media, such as clay or painting, can relieve tension. Both fine and gross motor movements utilizing art media can be powerful in discharging energy in the body and inducing a sense of calming relief.
  • Provides space for externalizing inner experiences
    Inner experiences are sometimes difficult to articulate with words. Art making allows an individual to externalize inner feelings and may bring greater awareness to an individual of how they are feeling at any given moment.
  • Creates a sense of purpose and mastery, control over environment
    Art can be a purposeful task that allows an individual to exert control over choices in the form of art media.
  • Creates opportunity to engage with others in non-threatening way
    Art can serve as a shared space between two people. Art can help those with mood concerns by engaging them with others in an indirect manner and may feel less intrusive than other forms of therapeutic engagement.
  • Facilitates self-reflection: learning about unknown strengths, building upon existing strengths
    Many individuals find that they are more capable in creative expression than they once believed, and may even discover new abilities or talents they were previously unaware they had.
  • Enhances communication: can express visually in pictures what may be challenging or frustrating to express with words
    Some experiences are difficult to communicate with verbal language. By expressing feelings, events, challenges, and triumphs through art, individuals can more easily express what is occurring within and around them. Art can be a non-verbal vehicle for communication and connection to others, as well as a catalyst for verbal communication and expression.
  • Increases social support through shared art experiences
    By participating in a group art experience, or even simply sharing art with others such as parents, caregivers, siblings, friends, colleagues, etc., individuals can build up their social supports. During times of stress or depression, these social supports can assist in resiliency and help the individual to manage symptoms more adaptively.
  • Encourages healthy habits such as regular self-care and self-awareness
    Developing regular engagement with visual art-making can serve as a powerful tool in becoming self-aware and in knowing when self-care techniques are important to use.