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How Art and Expression can Help you Cope with Loss

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5 months ago

Simply put, art is powerful. One of the main reasons that art is created is to express emotions in a unique way, an authentic way that might not be achieved through other means or mediums. I remember drawing vast landscapes for months after the passing of my grandfather in the early 2000s, but what I didn’t remember or realize was that I was drawing these out of a need for expression.

Whomever came up with the phrases “a picture is worth a thousand words” really knew what they were talking about. Art provides us with a way of emoting that words, with their definite meanings and structures, can lack. As such, art becomes a form of communication, one that transcends the barriers of language.

Since art and expression are used to convey different emotional states (both intentionally and unintentionally), naturally one state that is going to be conveyed is change and loss.

Here are a few different kinds of loss that art and expression can help us communicate and address:

  1. Necessary loss:

Necessary losses are something normal and positive.

Example: Starting college, leaving

  1. Actual loss:

Damage of body, objects, a tangible loss, death

Example: Losing a family member, losing a pet

  1. Perceived loss:

Defined by the person experiencing the loss and may be less applicable or relative to others around.

Example: Loss of self-confidence, heartbreak

Art therapy:

While this might seem self explanatory, art therapy is intentionally using art as a means to express and communicate feelings and thoughts that might not be able to be properly articulated otherwise.

By focusing your intention and using the feelings you’re experiencing as motivation and fuel, you can create something very meaningful, regardless of whether you’re a professional artist or not. The main goal is to emote, to communicate and to use your energy to create something that is valuable to yourself.

There are even several simple activities you can, try such as:

  1. Art journaling
  2. Drafting
  3. Molding with clay

Who should try art therapy?

Someone who feels pressured or overwhelmed by day to day life should give art therapy a try. It has been shown that art therapy can progress the cerebral health of those who are dealing with nervousness, attention disorders, sorrow and loss, sadness, physical disease, pain and relationship  problems.

Some of the mental health benefits of art therapy include:

Art can be used for traditional mental health treatment. The aim is to cope with one’s surroundings and situation, process emotions, decrease anxiety and worry. The result is something you can refer back to when times get tough, a physical expression of intangible feelings that can remind you how strong and resilient you really are.  

Art and Self Awareness:

Crafting art can get you to recognize and acknowledge emotions that have been lurking in your unconscious. Creating art can help you become more honest with yourself, as well as more understanding of yourself and your current situation.

Art and Self Esteem:

Art can help you obtain a feeling of accomplishment: the process of creation will help you gain a sense of self-achievement which can be valued to recover your self-confidence. Furthermore, by creating something physical, you can transmit your energy and intentions into an object, thus relieving yourself of them – even if only for a time.

Art, Emotional Relief and Communication:

The greatest advantage of art therapy is helping you develop a healthy outlet for stating and letting go of all your emotions and feelings. Complex feelings such as grief or fury sometimes cannot be communicated with words: this is through no fault of our own.

As humans, we experience an (almost sometimes) unbelievably wide range of feelings and emotions. Because of this, it makes sense that they are not all communicated in the same way. By exploring art as a form of communication, we may actually improve our ability to not only connect and understand others, but connect with and understand ourselves.

Why is Art the right treatment for so many?

Years of research have confirmed that in those with dementia and other advanced nervous disorders, the ability to make art remains long after language and speech have reduced.

Perhaps art taps into a deeper method of being and communication than even language, which makes sense because a painting can be appreciated and interpreted by a group of people who do not share a common language.

Carleton, like many art psychotherapists, is also a licensed psychological health counselor. Here, she elaborates on the value of creating a range of media from acrylic  paint to iPads accessible to individuals who are suffering from cancer treatment at MGH:

“Once people engage, they often realize they are having fun and the time passes faster.”

The key is to remember that this work does not need to be of “professional” quality. For example, try crafting an art journal. This is something you can do for 10 minutes a day or even for hours. By letting your pen, pencils or tool of choice glide across the page, you can create designs that reflect your feelings. The goal is to create freely, an action, intention and mentality that has been proven to help people process anxiety.

Suggestion – create your own mandala!

To those who are unfamiliar, painting or coloring a mandala has many benefits. A mandala is a circle sketch filled with shades, shapes and forms. Designing your own mandala is a way to give yourself permission to use shapes and forms to express different events in your life.

Why is this so powerful? This method can allow you to process and tell your story without discomfort reliving the conditions (for example, by speaking, one may experience those situations again). Using mandalas as a form of communication can become an affirmation of life.  

In Summary 

In life, we can be faced with events we are not prepared for. Sometimes even talking to our most trusted friends or family members can fall short of expressing what we have stored inside, which just very well may be a condition of being human.

We are powerful, adaptive and intelligent – we can use many different methods to communicate. Art can be that bridge for us, a bridge between ourselves and our loved ones. Art has the ability to transcend language, time and almost all barriers that we think exist between people: art can even help us breakdown barriers we have when it  comes to understanding ourselves.

The goal is not to create a professional work of art fit for public viewing, but to create something that means something to you. By using art intentionally and for it’s therapeutic and emotive qualities, we can improve the qualities of our own lives, one mandala at a time.

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Here are some prompts:

Do you agree with the author?

Have you tried art expression? Which medium did you use to express?
Paintings? Music? Dance?

Would you join a virtual art group for grieving families?

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