Anxiety is common in populations with special needs. Men, women, and children go through a great deal of stress as they try to handle daily life and bond with those around them. Many disabilities make it hard to adopt healthy coping strategies, while drugs and talk therapy have their limits with this unique population.
Researchers are always looking for better ways to combat the anxiety that those with special needs experience every day. One of the most successful – and arguably the most fun – has been art therapy.
What is Art Therapy?
Art therapy is a therapeutic technique that uses art instead of speech to relieve anxiety and improve coping. Therapists look for a form of artistic expression – often painting, sculpture, or drawing – and use that information to discover how the person is feeling and what may be causing stress in their life. Art therapy is also a useful coping strategy, because it gives those with special needs a chance to express their true selves in a way that many struggle to do with speech alone.
What Makes Art Therapy Such a Useful Tool?
Art therapy gives the individual a chance to create a story with their art and allow their feelings to come out in a productive and healthy way. This has several advantages over other types of therapy:
The act of creating something is, in itself, a great way to improve your quality of life. Creation creates accomplishment and pride. It is a great way to improve self-esteem, gives individuals a chance to improve their skills, and is a style of therapy that allows them to continue to evolve their own personal artistic storyline as it progresses. Creation is one of the greatest feelings of accomplishment, even when the creation is designed to be a stress reliever for anxiety and frustration. Art often becomes one of the person’s primary coping strategies as time goes on.
- Easier Communication
Art therapy is a great way to help those who struggle to communicate express their inner thoughts and feelings. All of these are expressed in their color choices, how they create any of the characters or artifacts within the painting/drawing, and the aggressiveness or emotions they display when they create the piece. Often practitioners also look into the stories they tell about what is going on in the art piece and why they chose the characters they did. All of this helps them cope with their own struggles and gives anyone helping them a chance to discuss how to make their lives better.
- Less Pressure
Art therapy also allows the individual to go at their own pace, rather than cognitive behavioral therapy, which puts them in a single room and require they have a one on one conversation. For someone with special needs, that can be a lot of pressure, and the pressure will only make the talk therapy session become a place of increased anxiety. Art therapy allows individuals to unravel at their own pace with a fun distraction that often tells the practitioner as much or more about the person’s current emotional state.
- Productive Long Term Strategy
Art therapy is also one of the most productive long-term self-coping strategies. Those with disabilities can continue to create art over the course of their lives, and use it as a way to express themselves whenever they feel the pressures of life. It is not always possible to have someone around for talk therapies, and drugs and other mechanisms are not healthy for long-term use.
- Bonding/Social Skills
The way that art therapy works – where the individual and the practitioner/therapist/teacher talk together either alone or in a group – improves the person’s social skills, and the ability to relate to others. Within art therapy one can find humor, friendliness, and shared interests, all of which teach them how to continue to bond with those around them and trust that there is someone there they can relate to.
Transforming a Negative Into a Positive
Finally, what adds to all of these benefits is that the art therapy itself helps to change the mindset of those with special needs, so that whenever they are experiencing something negative (fear, stress, anxiety, etc.) they are able to transform it into something positive. That alone will help stop anxiety from feeling overwhelming, and associate it with something that they love to do – create wonderful art and share it with others.
Art therapy has long been a productive strategy that helps those with disability and special needs cope with their stress. It acts as its own anxiety test showing how the individual is feeling, and gives them a healthy and productive way to explore those feelings that can easily change their mindset for the better. The world is full of stressful situations, especially if you have special needs, but art therapy is one of the ways that everything in life can become much more relaxing.
This is a guest post by Ryan Rivera, Founder, Calm Clinic.
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