If you engage in some kind of creative endeavor and acts that allow you to express yourself in artistic forms – drawing, sketching, crafting creative writing, or composing music, you might have found these acts to not just be intrinsically rewarding and enjoyable. You might have also felt that these acts allowed you to express parts of yourself, your emotions included, in a rich, personal manner. The arts in its many forms have, over the course of human history, been an outlet for the most creative and varied expressions of human experience and emotions. Some of us might even see ourselves as empathizing with characters in the plays we watch, or the lyrics in the songs we listen to.
Creative therapies – art and music, in particular, have been used as interventions and approaches to help individuals facing psychological issues and challenges. Indeed, there is evidence that art therapy is an effective approach in helping children experiencing attachment disorders, those experiencing grief, to adults with Alzheimer’s and dementia . Art therapy sessions typically involve an art therapist asking the individual to focus on, and express their inner thoughts, emotions and experiences – and express these on a given medium. Art therapist Terry Pifalo, for example, has used art therapy in helping reduce the trauma experienced by sexually-abused children and adolescents. In one study, Pifalo used art therapy in conjunction with cognitive- behavioural therapy (an approach to correcting maladaptive and unhelpful thoughts and behaviours) and group therapy. She found this combination of approaches to be effective in reducing the degree of maladaptive, negative emotions trauma experienced by these children. Children and adolescents aged 8 to 16, who had traumatic experiences from past abuse incidents, reported lowered levels of emotions such as anxiety, anger, depression, posttraumatic stress and sexual distress after going through this 8-week program . In Pifalo’s own words, “the use of art therapy in trauma-focused treatment provides traumatized individuals with an alternative mode of expression to bridge the gap between feelings and words.” Creative expressions of painful, experiences and emotions in a psychologically-safe environment can help participants overcome their difficult pasts.
Music therapy, likewise, has been shown to have an impact on helping supplement standard forms of psychological interventions and treatments. As with art therapy, music therapy can also aid in the treatment of individuals with emotional and mental dysfunctions. One review found music therapy to be effective in helping individuals with a psychotic and non-psychotic severe mental disorders, more so if the individuals attended 16 or more music therapy sessions. Improvements to general well-being, lowered depression and anxiety were also notable improvements after individuals had participated in a series of sessions with professional music therapists . Music therapy may even assist individuals in enhancing their emotion regulation ability. One review showed that when listening to preferred and familiar music and singing, individuals’ showed neural activity indicative of enhance emotion regulation ability. Put another way, certain musical pieces – the ones we prefer and are familiar with, activate parts of the brain that are involved in helping us regulate, and control our emotions .
Both art and music therapy studies reviewed here, of course, are forms of treatments and interventions that have been shown to be useful in helping individuals with psychological difficulties. You might not be experiencing any of such difficulties at the moment, of course, but if you enjoy creating art, or listening (or creating) to music, why not incorporate them as part of your interests and hobbies? Creative expressions are excellent ways for helping you regulate unpleasant emotions, while also cultivating more pleasant, positive ones.