4 Benefits of Art Therapy for Chronic Pain

Art therapy can be extremely useful if you suffer from chronic pain. Read on for reasons why you should participate in this activity.

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art therapy for chronic pain

Have you ever found yourself lost in a song? Or so absorbed with dancing that your problems – and your pain – fall away? Art therapy for chronic pain aims to harness that feeling and use it to encourage physical and mental healing.

Many studies have shown the benefits of this practice. Let’s explore the exercise and how it can alleviate your chronic pain as well as benefit your overall health and well-being.

What is art therapy for chronic pain?

Art therapy is a form of psychotherapy that promotes the use of art as a way to improve your wellbeing. It’s not recreational art-making. While creating art as a leisure activity can be an inherently healing process, art therapy takes it a step further.

In an art therapy session, you use your art to relate to your pain, talking through the emotions you may encounter. 

If you’re participating in the visual arts, this could mean that the lines, shapes, and colors you draw may have a deeper meaning you can examine. Driving the theory of art therapy is the mind-body experience or the belief that your mental state can affect your physical state.
Art Therapy for Chronic Pain mixed media art therapy project

Patients work with a registered or board certified art therapist. Classes are usually weekly, lasting half an hour to an hour, depending on the patient.

This therapeutic tool can be used as a complement to your pain medications or integrated into your chronic pain management plan. Artistic experience is not needed. Instead, the creative process is central and more important to the therapy.

Art, in this case, is very subjective and can include:

  • drawing and painting
  • printmaking
  • mixed media
  • woodworking and ceramics
  • dancing or singing
  • knitting
  • cooking
  • meditation
  • music
  • writing

How can art therapy help? 

Let’s look at 4 powerful ways art therapy for chronic pain can impact your life:

#1: It can distract you from your pain

Producing art can be an all-consuming process that shuts you off from the outside world. “I didn’t realize it at the time, but I often got lost in the process of creating. It gave my mind, and in some sense, my body, a rest,” said Peggy Cowan of the American Chronic Pain Association.

When you’re engaged in art creation, you’re not focused on your pain. Your mind is focused on the task at hand, instead of obsessing over the pain you may constantly feel. This can reduce your perception of pain and provide a much-needed respite.

art-therapy-chronic-pain
“Seeds of Destruction” by Marianne Van Gelder from painexhibit.org

You might also find that you’re gaining control over your pain. By engaging with art and choosing how you participate in it, you’re taking charge of your suffering. 

#2: It helps your mental health

Pain and mood are intricately intertwined. People with chronic pain are 3 times more likely to develop depression or anxiety symptoms. But art therapy can help.

A 2018 study showed that at least 30 mins of art therapy significantly helped a person’s pain, mood and anxiety levels throughout all genders, ages and diagnoses. It can help relieve stress and depression, while also strengthening your emotional resilience.

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