Art therapy. How does art affect mental health?

The purpose of art is not just to exist, but to engage in interpersonal communication; both the artist and the audience participate in art. While the artist gives their work meaning, it is the observer who discovers that meaning. In order to be able to decipher an artist’s work, the observer must break it down into fragments and piece it together into a coherent statement or paragraph that represents the artist’s reason for existance. Mentally ill people can be empowered through art, whether they do so consciously or unconsciously, in order to feel part of something bigger.

In fact, qualified art therapists are only able to determine through the use of their art, the underlying issues that have led to an individual’s mental instability. The art of these individuals acts to testify as well as confirm for themselves the type of mental disorder they may be suffering from because certain mental illnesses have a tendency to affect an individual’s perception and artistic expression. It is therefore possible for the art of a mentally ill individual to be used as a roadmap by art therapists in order to assist them in determining which physiological and emotional issues need to be dealt with in order to restore a person to wellness.

The majority of people who are suffering from mental illness experience some form of impairment in their ability to intentionally communicate their instinctual desires through repressed thinking. It is because individuals suffering from mental illness may not possess the ego integrity (resilience and connection to reality) that would enable them to censor and harness the energy and sensations of their irrational and instinctual desires while turning them into coherent thought/spoken ideas or concepts. Artistic expression on the other hand allows individuals having mental illnesses to actually express their instinctual desires in a constructive manner without having to be forced to censor their thoughts, feelings, or instincts without feeling restricted in their mode of expression.

It is important to realize that censoring can have severe effects on your emotions, as well as can lead to individuals shutting down and suffering from an inability to communicate with others due to their frustration with not being able to communicate their thoughts as quickly as they emerge.

So, for those who are the suffering from mental illness, arts emerge as a non-threatening means of communication for the mentally ill, as well as their artistic observer/therapist. Art therapy allows mental illness patients to communicate freely without reservation and connect with their inner world (mental landscape) through their thoughts, feelings, and dreams. This further assists the art therapist in eliminating underlying issues caused by their conditions and what are the reasons they are unable to return to health.

In order to discover and to express the meaning of an artistic creation, the observer / art therapist takes part in the artistic process by being exposed both to its latent and manifest significance as well as their client’s artistic work. The meaning of a work of art develops within both the artist and the observer/therapist through their joint participation in its development. Observer/therapists gives value to the client’s art through this process. Therapists are internalized by the client; they internalize the therapist’s reaction to the art. Hence, their response to the artwork will either assist the client to recover health or delay it. In short, a therapist’s reaction to the artwork and the ability to praise and/or critique it will help the client to gain insight, self-esteem, and connection to truth.

The value of art to a client does not lie in its inherent ability to heal them unless it is used to express the unfulfilled instinctual urges within the psyches of those suffering from mental illness through various creative outlets that stimulate their unsatisfied internal desires. In the absence of process and observer, the artist is forced to discard the work.

Art and its creation are just another expression of unmet instinctual desires that the artist tries to alleviate, but is unable to do so. Mentally ill people are shut off from others and reality when they lack a voice and a listener, which leads to frustration and anxiety. Art, its creation process, and the presence of an observer play important roles in preventing and resolving this.

Because art and the creation of art gains value through aesthetic participation and internalization by artist and observer, then it acquires the power to heal through internalization of process and observer. It’s this process that helps people struggling with mental illness, and brings healing much in the same way as rationalized therapy, therapy in which rationale thought is applied. In talk therapy, the observer and the client learn cognitive behavioral procedures that help resolve internalized conflicts.

During their period of interaction together, both the therapist and the client engaged in a state of psycho-emotional engagement that was recorded by the process of art. This is remarkable because the therapist and client created a public record of this state. The process of structured art therapy can assist in the recovery of mental illness in the mental ill by helping them to recognize the underlying problems they are experiencing.

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