How Art Heals ~ Body Talk and a Must Read

healingwiththearts When I felt the call to gather an Artist~Healer guest post circle a couple of years ago on my first blog, I have to confess that I had just put together those two terms intuitively - Artist and Healer - based on my own personal experience and desire to explore more deeply what connects art and healing so intimately, and why so many of the people I was meeting online seemed to be also drawn to both art and healing.

This past week, I've been reading a great book that uses, embraces, validates and applies to all who choose to claim it, the term Artist~Healer. Maybe you've heard of it - it's Healing with the Arts, and just came out in 2013. I'm a bit partial, too, because one of the authors is a nurse who found art to heal herself and the other author is an MD. I'm partial not just because of my own nursing background, but because I feel deeply that we need more visionaries from conventional paths of science & health who have seen and will continue to study and endorse the validity + necessity of expressive arts and creativity in a holistic lifestyle.

There is a wisdom in this that is far from new, that is rising up in so many to be re-realized, and that can greatly help reduce so much suffering in our world.

There have been many times in my life when I've read books that seem to express truths I've come upon myself in my own creative process, unprompted. When I was a kid, I would ponder and imagine that there was this field of ideas that surrounded us all, in waves of inspiration - and that any of those ideas were out there, accessible to any of us whenever we engaged in connecting with our muse and source. Reading this book, and the language the authors use validates my own journals, language and process from the past ... well, if I get really honest, the past twenty years... my own art-healing journey, one I'm just beginning to find words for myself. But, I'm rabbit-trailing here...

I cannot recommend this book enough if you are interested in art as a healing modality, and developing a practice for yourself that explores this, or hold art groups of your own - it is broken into a 12 week program that is quite insightful.

There are two keypoints from it that I want to share with you today:

First, the obvious, but the one we all need reminded of again and again. You can't just read about the effects of a creative and expressive practice in your life and expect to fully understand or be able to guide others through it or to it. You have to experience it. You have to do the work and the play of it, again and again. Make a ritual of it, a routine, a PRACTICE (that's why I use this word SO much).

Second, I want to address: How does art heal - in regards to quality of life AND on a physiological level?

It is shown in the evidence, the science - it's not just wishful thinking, projection or speculation anymore (though that can be arguably quite powerful, too, once you visit the evidence about placebo and nocebo effects, as well). I couldn't be more thrilled as these simple pathways, and the knowledge of their efficacy and potential, become more accessible and readily shared - perhaps even becoming common knowledge one day - shaking up rigid systems and beliefs and making way for more personally available and empowered ways of healing and holistic living - the roots of which lie in our very cells.

Here's the list about how art heals that the book offers (p. 30), based on various research studies and a comprehensive research report in the Journal of Public Health:

  • Enhance social support, psychological strength, and help people gain new insights into their illness experience
  • Help people express complex emotions (anxiety, isolation, fear)
  • Help people cope with trauma
  • Help people experience joy
  • Help people connect with spirit
  • Ease depression
  • Enhance spirituality
  • Reduce stress, depression and anger
  • Increase immune function and endorphins
  • Alter perception of pain and decrease the need for pain medication
  • Induce mind-body changes that speed and promote healing

The effect is often described as psychological turned physiological in our bodies, and is directly related to our autonomic nervous system - it is a well documented pathway. I wrote about why this is so very important (and how it works on a basic level) right over HERE.

Now, if I were to get real honest with you over a cup of tea and some journal painting time, one-on-one, we'd talk about the energy of all of this, too - the quantum-physics stuff that we are just beginning to prove in our experiments and studies - and we'd see how that inspired our awe a few steps further, shining light on the power of our imaginations, thoughts, and creative energies as individuals, not just part of a greater whole - but as vivid, seamless, continuous one-ness. We'll save that for another time...  for now, consider the book, and getting to your practice today, or starting one.

And also, play with this... that at the core essence of both, there is no difference between art and healing.

Art doesn't cause healing to occur. Healing is naturally occurring, as is the creative process, and both dance together like lovers to evoke change and growth when we nurture their inherent processes and the environment in which they express themselves, consciously considering our power to impact them with choice and attention.

So, perhaps, it's not so much that Art Heals as it is this: Art IS Healing.



If you are in Asheville, consider joining us for the Creative Healing Circle that will meet every other week beginning on January 26.

If you want to explore your personal sense of connection between art, body, nature and healing, and establish or enhance your practice, consider joining myself and 34 other contributors in the online holistic visual journaling experience born out of my passions for all of the ideas above: Spectrum.