Pain is the physical or mental suffering or discomfort mainly due to illness or injury. And different medications exist for different kinds of pain.
While pain medication is still important and irreplaceable, recent findings suggest art as an effective complement for pain relief.
In this article, you will know how exactly art therapy can help you manage and get pain relief. But first, let’s discuss what art therapy is.
What is art therapy?
Art therapy, according to the British Association of Art Therapists, “is a form of psychotherapy that uses art media as its primary mode of expression and communication.”
This type of therapy has emerged from both art and the psychodynamic ways of thinking.
Note that art, in this context, is not a diagnostic tool. But rather as a medium of expression for emotions that patients may feel due to pain.
Art therapists are professionals who provide art therapy to patients who do not necessarily have experience or expertise in art.
Art therapy should not be confused with art lessons. The focus of the former are the therapeutic relationships, social communication, and expression rather than the resulting artwork made or performed.
How does art therapy help manage pain?
Various explanations and theories exist as to how art therapy positively affects pain.
Hans Christoff Müller-Busch is a German professor and physician who specializes in palliative medicine and pain therapy. His study reports six ways art therapy supports pain management.
1. Enhances creative activity and capacity as a healing source
Müller-Busch stated that art therapy and creative activity, in general, can build individual creativity.
This produces new behavioral patterns. And the individual’s past affects this pattern, making it personal and unique which sets it apart from social creativity.
This is crucial for self-expression and promotes self-acceptance.
The therapeutic effect that comes from artistic creativity because of increased motivation and confidence. Both of which could also be improve mental well-being.
The individual can now face pain with a stronger mentality and in turn, handle the pain well.
2. Stimulates positive emotional experience
Making or performing art without pressure can provide positive experiences. These experiences can bring pleasure, satisfaction, or simply the relaxation of an individual.
But, the person in pain must first consciously perceive and acknowledge the pain. Why? This will serve as the first step towards for getting relief from art therapy.
As the author, John Green wisely puts it in his book The Fault in Our Stars, “pain demands to be felt.”
This is indeed true because how can you express your ordeals through art and turn it into positive feelings and experiences when you are in denial of the pain you have?
3. Increases social communication and interaction
Psychotherapy through art highlights social therapeutic interaction and communication as well as the process of expression and interpretation. It’s not only about the final artwork the individual does.
Details like the choice of color in paint therapy or preferred rhythm and melody of songs in music therapy can be suggestive of how the person portrays pain.
Using colors, music, or dance moves to express emotions which are sometimes difficult to do verbally, can strengthen self-esteem and self-acceptance of a person.
With this, the art therapists can then serve as guides to the patients as the latter describe and express their pain through their artwork and try to explain such to the former.
It is therefore important that interpersonal communication and connection be built between the individual and the therapist.
With a good rapport, they can have proper and honest conversations about what the artwork symbolizes, and together, they learn more about the pain.
Good social interaction can also be a positive experience that provides further relief from pain.
4. Facilitates positive coping mechanisms
It is normal for people to deal with negative emotions and pain through defense or coping mechanisms.
One type of defense mechanism is sublimation in which socially unacceptable urges and thoughts are transformed into socially acceptable behavior.
And art is one of the best socially acceptable ways to do this. Thoughts, feelings, and conflicts are turned into music, paintings, and dance.
The therapists’ role here is making these coping mechanisms known to the individuals in pain.
In this manner, the patient can be made aware of the things they can do and the choices they can make to relieve pain.
Although art therapy helps lower your pain perception by taking your mind’s focus away from the pain, it is not just a simple distraction.
Art therapy helps the patient relax and be in control of his/her emotions. It also helps patients to control and actions rather than the pain dictating the person how to feel or act.
5. Stimulates imaginative experiences
Imaginative stimulation through visualization techniques, hypnosis, or meditation is already used nowadays for pain management.
Art therapy can also activate imaginative abilities that have therapeutic effects.
Through controlled imagination, changes in behavior as well as pain perception can be possible.
6. Promotes suggestive power
This explanation highlights music therapy. Music or rhythmic sounds are powerful tools as an expressive therapy that can offer therapeutic effects.
The suggestive power of music is also known to be used in many primitive rituals as it brings a person to ecstasy which then can “expel” the pain.
People with anxiety and pain are found to be particularly sensitive to suggestive techniques.
Art has been a great part of a person’s childhood as it stimulates learning and development.
However, it goes to show that art is still as important to an adult individual especially when talking about pain relief.
Pain may be inevitable at certain circumstances. But art therapy can help reduce or manage the feeling on pain. And that could be through music, painting, dancing, or any other art form.