Art therapy began as a distinct form of psychotherapy in the 1940s and has been growing in popularity ever since. A way for people of all ages to process emotions and gain personal growth while growing in self-understanding and processing emotional change, art therapy is a great way for seniors to cope with grief, loss, and other emotions that often come with age.
Learn more about art therapy and how it can help seniors age well.
What is Art Therapy?
Art therapy is a powerful form of self-expression and can bring people relief from overwhelming emotions, crises, or trauma. Usually, art therapy uses creative techniques like drawing, painting, sculpting, or coloring as a form of self-expression. Then, clients talk about their art and are guided by a credentialed art therapist to understand nonverbal messages and symboled often found in these art forms. Sometimes called creative therapy, art therapists draw on a variety of other mediums including music, movement, and writing.
The American Art Therapy Association says that art therapy is the “integrative mental health and human services profession that enriches the lives of individuals, families, and communities through active art-making, creative process, applied psychological theory, and human experience within a psychotherapeutic relationship.”
Art therapists facilitate the therapy and must have a master’s degree to practice in the United States. Art therapist Cathy Malchiodi explains her role in her book, The Art Therapy Sourcebook, saying,
“I recognize the power of art to expand self-understanding, to offer insight not available through other means, and to extend people’s ability to communicate. I also view art expressions as personal narratives conveyed through images, as well as through the stories that people attach to those images. Finding personal meaning in one’s images is often part of the art therapy process. For some people, it is one of the most potent therapeutic qualities of art expression. It is a powerful way of knowing yourself and a powerful form of healing.”
3 Benefits of Art Therapy for Seniors
1. Art therapy can reduce stress
Aging can be stressful. Moving from a family home, the loss of friends and family, a dementia diagnosis are all things that many of today’s seniors are facing that can cause stress. Art therapy is an opportunity to work through that anxiety. Studies have found that art has a positive effect on health and illness as we age, helping individuals relax, giving them a sense of control, reducing depression and anxiety, and even increasing self-esteem. The relaxing nature of art can help manage stress while giving seniors a creative outlet and even unlock hidden talents.
2. Art therapy is a great form of self-expression for seniors with dementia
As dementia progresses, seniors may be unable to write or use language to communicate but they may be able to use colors or reveal images of their past. This form of expression can result in strengthened connections with family members and help seniors with dementia feel empowered and less isolated.
Not only does art therapy help people with dementia communicate, it may also boost brain health. Bruce Miller, MD, and behavioral neurologist at the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center, says that while brains age, creative abilities do not necessarily deteriorate and the brain responds well to art, strengthening communication between the two brain hemispheres.
3. Art therapy can reduce inflammation and promote better circulation
For seniors with chronic illness like hypertension or arthritis, regular art therapy can help reduce pain and control the illness. Engaging the fingers, hands, and arms, art therapy is light but consistent physical activity that can promote better circulation and dexterity. Additionally, the relaxing nature of art therapy can be a pain management technique and a way to control discomfort, especially when done in conjunction with physical therapy or prescription medications.
Have you or a loved one benefited from art therapy? Share your personal experiences with us in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you!