Instrument of Healing
Mounting scientific evidence makes it clear that personal creative expression, once perceived as a luxury, sideline or hobby in our busy lives, is in fact a keystone of our most healthy and worthwhile activities. In infinitely varied and pleasurable forms, creative practices can move us beyond artful living to also serve as a vehicle for healing.
When we appreciate others’ creativity, or better yet, actively bring creativity to bear in our own experiences, such participation shapes our sense of self and can render physical and emotional benefits. Studies published in Time and MuSICA (Music and Science Information Computer Archive), for example, have shown that music is a powerful ally. Listening and playing music not only helps us manage our moods and emotions, it also works to reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol, repair and regenerate brain neurons, calm anxiety and regulate heart rate.
Kids clearly benefit from the time they spend on creative pursuits. Beyond being great fun, arts education and creative activities help kids develop confidence and discipline, build mental acuity, increase problem-solving skills and shape more powerful futures.
A study done by the University of California-Irvine, for example, proved that an important link exists between exposure to music and human intelligence, stating that, “Music trains the brain for higher forms of thinking.” A concurring report by the American Music Conference concluded that kids who play a musical instrument are 52 percent more likely to go on to college. Today, children who study the arts continue to outperform non-arts students on Scholastic Aptitude Tests (SAT) by an average of 59 points in verbal skills and 44 points in math skills, according to a College Board study compiled in 2001 by the Music Educators National Conference.
As well as helping the young to mature, creative outlets help the mature stay young. “A lot of our brain is devoted to movement,” notes Kelly G. Lambert, a professor who chairs the psychology department at Randolph-Macon College, in Ashland, Virginia. “Thus, hobbies and activities that use our hands are engaging in more of our brain’s real estate.” Experts theorize that hands-on activities such as cooking, gardening, making jewelry, crocheting and sculpting may work to enhance mental clarity, because they activate additional parts of the brain.
As we age, managing life’s challenges becomes especially important to overall health and well-being. A regular creative practice helps, according to Manhattan psychologist Dr. Joseph Cilona. “Creative activities can be highly beneficial in the management of stress,” he believes, “particularly the stressors associated with chronic life issues, such as coping with physical illness, a demanding job or troublesome relationships.” As a result, he says, “Individuals can experience a decrease in stress, anxiety and uncomfortable physical symptoms and improvement in symptoms of depression.”
Help for Families
Art-based projects open a channel to express difficult feelings and insights. These can be especially helpful for individuals facing conflict or transition, for those recovering from substance abuse and for victims of abuse or trauma. Art therapy—a guided, clinical application of creative practices—is one of therapeutic medicine’s fastest growing fields.
“Art therapy enables clients to express themselves non-verbally, allowing for subconscious wounds to be expressed via drawing, painting, making masks, creative writing and meditation,” observes Candice Christiansen, a licensed professional counselor and clinical director at Journey Healing Centers addiction treatment facilities in Arizona and Utah. “Art therapy gives clients a way to explore their painful histories in a safe, more comfortable forum.”
Rachel Brandoff, a licensed art therapist and co-founder of the Creative Arts Therapies Center in New York City remarks, “I’ve seen families be drawn together through their own creativity and develop abilities to overcome difficult and often dividing circumstances. Creativity can foster new ways of thinking that allow individuals to find resourceful new ways of being in their world.”
Plus, it’s Fun
While any facet of creativity enhances daily experience, focused creative endeavor soothes our bodies, nurtures a rich sense of personal identity and advances the success of our children. When we commit to pursuing a form of art, attend community arts events, vote yes on public referendums for arts funding and support the arts with our time and donations, we keep creativity alive and kicking, making its wonderful works and wider benefits available to all.
Mary Beth Maziarz is an author and professional songwriter whose songs have appeared in 50 films and television shows. Her most recent book is, Kick-Ass Creativity – An Energy Makeover for Artists, Explorers, and Creative Professionals. Connect at [email protected]