Let me preface this by saying I’m not a clinician. I’m not a psychiatrist. I can’t answer this question with an unequivocal “Yes” – although “art therapy” is undeniably a thing. But I am someone who wants to use his creativity to hopefully make the world a better place – a lofty goal, certainly!
So, what do I mean by therapeutic? Can art be a substitute for therapy? Certainly not, especially if you really need it. However, I do think art can be helpful! We’ve all got pent-up frustrations after all, and we can release them either productively or counterproductively. Many choose to release pent up energy in anger – which isn’t necessarily unhealthy per se, it just depends on how you do it.
It can also sometimes be therapeutic and cathartic to see how universal certain types of struggles are. It’s quite alienating to think that you and you alone are the only person to feel a certain way. “I’m the only one who’s ever gone through this,” you may think. So imagine how freeing it must be to read a book, watch a film, play, or television show, or even listen to a song and see yourself and your struggles reflected there? Oftentimes this is something universally felt perhaps magnified for dramatic effect. It’s as if the writer/artist is letting people know “You’re not alone – this is something we all experience.” Sometimes it can even help for us to channel personal anxieties into artistic activities.
I’d like to share my personal experiences to the fore. I am a notorious overthinker. My mind is just bursting with “OMG THIS MIGHT HAPPEN” doomsday scenarios that sometimes feel like the workings of a sleep deprived television writer’s room. In my case, artistic pursuits such as acting, writing, and improvisational comedy, have channeled whatever pent-up emotions I’ve been feeling in ways that have helped me immensely. When my mind can focus on a creative activity, it feels a bit like a dog running aimlessly everywhere having finally found its bone.
I’m sure many people feel the same way about music or visual arts. Perhaps some even feel equally as passionately about science, a particular trade, or other endeavors that are equally valuable but aren’t considered part of the arts. Is this therapeutic release reserved solely for artistic activities? I’m not sure, but everyone is has different ways of soothing and quieting the mind.
What I think is unique about the arts is that they are specifically engineered to deal with people’s feelings. A play that makes people cry, makes them happy, a song that reminds them of a past lover. All of this requires that people engage on an emotional level – and it was required of the artist that he or she engage on that same emotional level in its creation.
So perhaps the arts offer a unique opportunity to channel feelings into something positive, feelings that may otherwise be burdensome. Being able to witness/consume art about people going through things that we’ve gone through allows us to further flex our empathy muscles. Maybe we wouldn’t be able to feel as deeply or as often without the arts. In a way, I believe the arts do quite a bit to keep us human.
So do I believe they can be therapeutic? Again, I’m not a clinician, but I believe they can provide a release. They’re an outlet that many people need. The arts allow us to feel and empathize in tandem with our fellow humans, and we could always use a little more of that.
(Credit for featured image: Tim Mossholder.)