Does art heal?

Hand painting on large canvas

For as long as I can remember, I have created art. I took to art before I took to walking—which would explain why I still trip a lot. I remember my mom would never leave the house without crayons and something for me to draw on. It was the ultimate child silencer.

Art, of just about any kind, was an escape for me. I could get lost in it. To this day, it has a calming effect. It takes me away from the five hundred and fifty things running around in my head and lets me just focus on what is in front of me.

I’ve seen the effect art can have on people who can’t even draw or don’t even have much of an interest in art. As a volunteer for Free Arts of Arizona, I have worked with a group of about ten teenage boys in a group home. Once a week we would do therapeutic art projects with them. It was amazing to see how it can instantly change the whole mood of the room. A rambunctious group of teenagers would relax in a matter of a few minutes.

Through my personal experience I can vouch that art calms. But can art heal?

Art therapy is an important part of the integrative care we provide at Banner Health. I spoke with Dr. Patricia DeBruhl at Banner Desert Medical Center in Mesa, Arizona who runs a Day of Art program for people facing cancer to get a better understanding of her experiences. According to Dr. DeBruhl, “Exposure to creative arts therapy helps reduce depression, anxiety and pain and there’s an improvement in quality of life.”

“When you’re diagnosed with something like cancer, it’s all a physical fight at first. The idea of processing the feelings and the thoughts that go with cancer doesn’t really happen because there is no time for it. Most people are pragmatic and leap into the plan of care. Through art they have an opportunity to meditate and think about what is happening. I’ve seen patients cry for the first time while creating art. It helps them feel like a human being and tap into who they are and their individual strengths.”

According to an article by the American Journal of Public Health titled The Connection Between Art, Healing, and Public Health: A Review of Current Literature , women with cancer who participated in art making programs showed a significant decrease in symptoms of physical and emotional distress while they were receiving treatment. The article discussed several other examples of the healing power of art. It’s not just visual arts that can have an impact. Music, writing, and movement-based creative expression can have a healing effect, too.

Artwork from the Day of Art is displayed at Banner Desert Medical Center throughout the year. Over 100 pieces are displayed. “It’s a legacy our cancer patients leave with us,” states Dr. DeBruhl. “It benefits the caregivers, patients who don’t have cancer, and anybody who’s facing any kind of challenge because they can see what somebody else did when facing their own challenges. This art benefits everyone.”

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