Celebrate Art Therapy During National Craft Month

Tim Watt  |  March 26, 2014

When people think about the benefits of crafting, they probably focus on the social environment it engendersĀ and the feelings of creativity that it allows. Did you know that crafts can also serve a medical purpose? During March - National Craft Month - residents of senior living and their caregivers may take advantage of the physical and psychological perksĀ that crafting can offer, all while having a great time.

Art therapy helps seniors
What exactly is art therapy? The American Cancer Society defines the practice as creative expression used to manage physical and emotional conditions. This can include a wide range of artistic mediums - from painting, drawing or sculpting to writing, dancing or photography. Essentially, any type of art that allows a person to be creative fits the bill.

How does art therapy help people? According to the organization, therapists have documented various mental and physical benefits of the practice. For example, art therapy is known to help reduce stress and anxiety, both of which have been linked to a number of chronic conditions, such as hypertension and heart disease. By reducing negative emotions, people can improve their overall health.

Of course, physical condition is only one part of well-being. Mental health can also gain from art therapy. People who experience depression, bipolar disorder, brain injury or eating disorders have also reported improvement after starting artistic expression courses aimed at helping them work through their symptoms.

Art therapy for healing
In addition to preexisting physical and mental conditions, art therapy can also be an important part of the healing processes following an incident or injury. For example, the American Art Therapy Association cited people benefiting from the practice after a traumatic experience, such as the death of a loved one or an accident.

Under the guidance of trained art therapists, patients are invited to work either alone or as part of a group, and create physical representations of their emotions or problems. While this benefits the patient, for whom art therapy can help organize complicated emotional processes, it can also aid caregivers. The therapists themselves may gain a greater understanding of the patient's condition and symptoms, as well as underlying causes. Both the creative process and subsequent discussion about the resulting art can build onto this process.

Practicing with seniors
Although only a professional art therapist is trained to create comprehensive programs, caregivers and family members may consider encouraging older relatives to practice art on their own, or join them in doing so.

Popular activities that require little training and few additional tools include writing, watercolor painting and forming shapes with modeling clay. For seniors who are particularly active, simple dancing or free motion can be a way to express themselves with their entire bodies.

Basic art forms in particular can be a great way for older and younger family members to bond while boosting their own physical and mental health. Writing poetry or dancing, for example, can always be collaborative experiences. Or get even more people in on the fun and healing with a family craft night.

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