The creative process involved in experiencing art is not just refreshing but healing, too.
As Rajeev entered the cozy dance studio nestled above the cafe near his office, he felt the stress of the day slipping away. He smiled and waved to a couple of familiar faces in the room. Faces, just like his, that had once carried the burden of having to fake emotions they never felt.
As the music began, Rajeev felt each beat embracing him. He felt free and childlike as he began to use colour and movement to communicate what was weighing on his heart. Art therapy they called it. A type of psychotherapy that encourages individuals to use self-expression through various art forms to improve their physical, mental and emotional well-being.
“Friends couldn’t understand why I was always feeling low. They told me to snap out of my bad mood. They said I was being ungrateful for what I had. I almost gave up, but I’m grateful for my sister who introduced me to art therapy. This programme has helped me overcome the cloud of hopelessness that used to hang over me every single day. I feel alive now,” says Rajeev emotionally.
Across the world, art therapy is proving to be an effective treatment option for many mental ailments. In a country like India, with only one psychiatrist for every 200,000 people, the introduction of art therapy in schools, colleges, hospitals, and workplaces is the need of the hour.
Like Rajeev, many Indians today suffer in silence due to the stigma surrounding mental and emotional issues. According to a WHO report, around 56 million citizens suffer from depression and another 38 million, from anxiety disorders.
Besides emotional issues, art therapy also helps patients with traumatic illnesses, such as cancer, to deal with their emotions and steer through their treatment process positively. In a recent study published by the European Journal of Cancer care, art therapy in combination with conventional treatments such as radiation and chemotherapy not only reduces symptoms usually associated with cancer, such as pain, fatigue and anxiety, but also enhances life expectancy of the patients.
The origins of art therapy dates back to the early 1940s when British artist, educator, broadcaster and author Adrian Hill used art as a coping mechanism while battling tuberculosis. In his book ‘Art Versus Illness’, published in 1945, he writes: “I became… a diligent and leisurely composer of precise pencil productions, each of which, in the terms of my restricted medium, sought to express my personal reactions to the unreality of my existence.”
Since then, various studies have shown that the creative process involved in making art is healing and life-enhancing for both children and adults.
“Art therapy engages maximum senses that can win over anxiety to such a strong extent that it can help one look at the brighter side of life during an emotional or physical atrocity. With many benefits and zero side-effects, it’s hardly surprising that art is being pegged as the new miracle drug for all,” says Shikha Mittal, Founder-Director, Be.artsy.
Be.artsy is a pioneer in using performance, literary and visual art-based programmes to address social and workplace issues. The organisation is gearing up to start art therapy programmes in partnership with workplaces, hospitals, schools and colleges in the near future.