Artful Healing

Psychotherapists are finding the arts to be powerful vehicles for self-expression and healing.

This essay first appeared in "Soul Work: A Field Guide for Spiritual Seekers." It is reprinted here with permission of the authors.

A young woman moves silently across the floor on her hands and knees, then rises and slowly begins to stretch toward the ceiling, seemingly reaching for the skylight. Seated on the floor near her, a social worker watches, observing the details of the woman's movement for later discussion.

In another room, a psychologist encourages a middle-aged man to sing from the place in his body where he has chronic pain, to "give that pain a voice." Another counselor, working in group therapy, gives everyone in the group the same poem, which the group then acts out, finding movement, sounds, and words to elaborate on or embellish the poem's themes. At the close of the session, each group member writes his or her own lines of verse in response to what has been read.

Artists play with sound and silence.... Gods play with the universe. Children play with everything they can get their hands on.


All of these counselors have very different backgrounds and training. But they and many other contemporary therapists have one thing in common: a belief in the healing power of creativity and art. In fact, one of the fastest-growing areas in psychotherapy is the arts therapies, which are based on the idea that all human beings are endowed with the ability to unleash, examine, and transform their emotions through creative endeavor, be it painting, writing, dancing, or singing.

The emphasis in such therapies is not on producing a finished work of art--although that can happen--but rather on the process of expressing feelings and increasing self-awareness. This process is, as British psychiatrist Anthony Storr points out in "The Dynamics of Creativity," "that of the child at play." Many writers on the subject echo Storr. They insist that play is an integral element in creativity. One must be willing to try things one way, then another; to write two pages, then go back and excise one and a half. Stephen Nachmanovitch, who wrote a book on improvisation entitled "Free Play" sees play as "the taproot from which original art springs.... Artists play with sound and silence. Eros plays with lives. Gods play with the universe. Children play with everything they can get their hands on."

leave comments
Did you like this? Share with your family and friends.
Anne and Charles Simpkinson
comments powered by Disqus