The Healing Powers of Art

The young man appeared a reluctant participant in the Swope Health arts program, led by Carolyn Graves, artist and Community Support Specialist, in the Adult Community Psychiatric Rehabilitation Program.

The art program is a way to teach coping skills to individuals overcoming substance use or other behavioral health issues. Most of the other day program participants were chatty and engaged, especially as Carolyn continually challenged her class to try new techniques of artistic expression.

But throughout four-day-a week Zoom classes, this young man stayed silent as he worked, answering with a nod or shrug only. After speaking with the young man’s mother and Community Support Specialist, Carolyn understood that the silence was a behavior of his choosing, not caused by a physical limitation.

When the art program resumed in-person sessions, the young man came to class but remained silent.

Until one day: while Carolyn was intently explaining a technique known as Aboriginal dot painting, he turned to her and said, “I got it.”

Carolyn considered it a breakthrough – and one more example of the healing influence of art.

“Art is a great coping skill,” Carolyn said. “It literally diverts your attention from yourself to focus on something bigger. Art has a fundamental power of expression.”

The art program offers a safe space for participants to learn new skills – whether drawing, creating with papier-mâché, coloring or painting – while sharing time and experiences with others. The class is set up for no more than 16, to allow Carolyn plenty of time with each participant. There are no demands on the participants, other than engaging their own creativity.

Carolyn Graves demonstrates how to use newspaper in the first step of creating a papier-mâché heart decoration.

 

Carolyn shows a finished wall hanging of her own design.

Carolyn noted her silent student has begun becoming more expressive, while also taking greater pride in his work. “Best in class,” she says.

His mother is delighted at the progress. She said he has indicated an interest in visiting museums and she is starting to imagine him working, perhaps in a framing studio.

“He has come so far,” she said. “I’m amazed and so grateful for this program.”

 

If you’d like to support the art therapy program, visit the Swope Health Amazon Smile Wish List page to donate supplies. 

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