Can art therapy offer benefits for and individual with a disability? The answer to that question, while debated, is becoming clearer and clearer with each scientific study: Yes. In the opinions of many, participating in the arts is beneficial to all people, disabled or non-disabled. And when you look at the results brought into the lives of the disabled through the medium of art, the many benefits of art therapy are undeniable.
One definition of art therapy is “Employing the creative process of art making to improve and enhance the physical, mental and emotional well-being of individuals of all ages with the aim of resolving conflicts and problems, developing interpersonal skills, managing behavior, reducing stress, and increasing self-esteem and self-awareness.”
While art therapy does have specific benefits for the disabled, it also has emotional, physical, mental, cognitive, and creative benefits universal to all people. The emotional benefits are reaped when a person chooses to express his or her emotions through art, be it through painting, singing, dancing, etc. This may allow for a more “free-flow” of emotions, and may prevent them from getting backlogged and causing emotional difficulties.
The physical benefits of art therapy are being discovered. While it comes as no surprise to most fans of the arts, participating in the arts can most definitely reduce stress and anxiety and increase physical and emotional health. A reduction of stress and pain is another benefit of art therapy — this is true for both disabled and non-disabled individuals.
How is art uniquely beneficial to individuals with a disability? Emotionally, art therapy can benefit disabled individuals by giving them entirely new mediums through which they may express themselves and their experiences.
“For a person who cannot speak, a dance performance may clearly communicate even the most complicated message. For a person with a mental disability who cannot communicate effectively through words, a painting rich with color and life may say more than verbal sentences ever could. And, for a person who has limited mobility, a song sung with emotion and spirit may elicit movement toward a state of clarity and joy.”
For an individual who has recently become disabled, art therapy may be particularly helpful. Recent scientific studies have shown that, while verbal capacity is controlled by the left hemisphere of the brain, traumatic memories are stored in the right. Arts therapy is being proven to bridge the two hemispheres in ways that result in an individual having greater verbal expression of his or her experience of having recently become disabled. This results in far greater cognitive, emotional, and possibly even physical health.
For someone with a disability, arts therapy can be life changing.
Are you an artist with a disability? Have you recently begun any form of art therapy? What have your experiences been in engaging the arts? And, if you have never picked up a paintbrush or attempted to write a song, would today be a good day to start?