The Benefits of Art Therapy for Seniors

Even if you haven’t picked up a crayon or colored marker since grammar school, you possess creative talent. Whether you prefer to draw, paint, sing, dance, craft, or take photographs, your passion and creativity could translate well to the pursuit of art therapy.

According to U.S. News & World Report, the senior population in the United States climbed more than 15 percent from 2000 to 2010. As the number of older adults in the United States grows, it becomes increasingly important to foster those individuals’ contributions to the world. Art therapy offers a unique way not only to encourage creativity among seniors but also to improve their quality of life. Here’s everything you need to know about the benefits of art therapy.

What Is Art Therapy?

The American Art Therapy Association defines art therapy as using art media to improve emotional, physical, and psychological health. Every form of art qualifies as a medium of art therapy, from sculpting and sketching to playing an instrument and making clothing. Most art therapists focus on the visual arts, but you can allow your personal preferences to guide you.

Art therapists contend that the practice helps adults resolve internal conflicts, express their emotional states, and find empowerment through creation. Each piece of art represents the way the artist felt during its creation.

You can also use art therapy to work through problems or calm your mind during a period of anxiety or frustration. The mechanical movements of art creation prove soothing, especially if you devote your attention fully to the task. For people who experience stress or reticence when confronted with talk therapy, art therapy offers an attractive alternative.

How Does Art Therapy Benefit the People Who Practice It?

Some art therapists teach their patients specific tools or techniques, but art therapy focuses on the act of creation more than the quality of the result. Practitioners decide to create a work of art, then focus their attention on every brush stroke of a painting or every spin of the pottery wheel. They experience several benefits of art therapy, including:

  • Relaxation: A 2015 report by CNN identified repetitive tasks, such as those associated with arts and crafts, as relaxing and soothing, especially after a traumatic event, such as the loss of a loved one.
  • Expression: You can communicate an idea, emotion, or thought into your work of art. Even if you never give voice to the “soul” of your artwork, you can experience relief when you allow yourself to express it.
  • Activity: While artwork might seem easy compared to some forms of physical activity, it keeps the joints and muscles moving. As long as you listen to your body, you can benefit from the movement involved in art therapy.
  • Community: Sharing your artwork with others often proves as beneficial as creating it in the first place. You make connections with others as you share your work and, if you feel comfortable, discuss it.

Do You Need Great Talent?

Many older adults avoid art therapy because they don’t consider themselves “artists.” However, this form of therapy doesn’t require talent or skill—just the willingness to express your creativity.

Young children, such as those in preschool and Kindergarten, might not possess great artistic talent. Their parents and teachers still encourage them to create art, though, because they recognize the value of creativity in the developing mind. These benefits translate to adults, as well.

Should You Work with an Art Therapist?

Some art therapy participants choose to work with a licensed art therapist while others undertake this practice by themselves or in groups. You might want to start by yourself, though art therapy group activities create a sense of community. The method of art therapy matters far less than your devotion to it.

You can research art therapy on your own and learn how to benefit from it. However, if you feel lost or if you aren’t sure how to approach it, consider working with an art therapist to get started.

What Are Some Art Therapy Exercises?

If you’re ready to jump into art therapy, several exercises can get you acquainted with the practice.

The Huffington Post suggests creating an artistic postcard that you never stick in the mail. Express feelings you aren’t ready to tell the recipient on the paper, then toss the missive in the trash or put it in a secret place. Put as much emotion into the project as possible; afterward, you might find that the message behind the postcard no longer seems as important or serious.

In The Frisky, Katie Oldenburg recommends creating a vision board. Draw pictures, cut out images from magazines, or use stencils to create a piece of poster board that represents your vision of the future. What do you want to accomplish in the next week, month, or year? If you’ve just retired, what do you want your post-retirement life to look like?

Alternatively, take Psychology Today’s approach and try your hand at the much-lauded Zentangle. It’s a ritualistic and highly calming form of art that creates order from chaos and helps practitioners find their inner calm.

You might also want to brainstorm art therapy group activities. Choose a single word as inspiration for individual paintings, for example, to see how you each express it differently.

You can also take a page from the past and rediscover a form of art you abandoned. Maybe you once loved to decoupage, for example, or perhaps you considered yourself a burgeoning watercolorist. Whatever the case, revisit an artistic pursuit you once enjoyed and allow yourself to find joy in it again.

Art therapy for seniors might sound hokey, but it’s recognized as a legitimate form of therapy and relaxation. As an older adult, you have a wealth of lived experiences and the freedom to take risks. Art therapy might offer the perfect outlet for your creativity.

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