By Austin Leonard
Vulnerability is a scary word and an even scarier task. What would you get if you mixed the fear of being vulnerable with the beauty of creation? In my opinion, you get a powerful piece of work that oozes introspection and healing. This level of introspective work is the goal of art therapy and its benefits for mental health are plentiful.
Art therapy is a form of psychotherapy that uses art as the main method of communication. “Art” here is defined as mediums ranging from painting and drawing, to music, drama and dance; and more recently also includes photography and other digital mediums. Art therapy uses the creation and performance of creative works as a way of expressing one’s feelings and frustrations combined with speaking about them. According to this study, several published research studies find that significant improvements were observed in clients dealing with depression, anxiety, cognitive impairment, dementia, Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, and autism as well as cancer patients. These improvements range from lower stress levels, improved cognitive processes, less depressive symptoms, significant memory and recognition gains, an overall improvement in quality of life, and a reduction of anxiety.
Personally, I’ve been able to see these benefits in my own exploration of art therapy activities. Over the last several weeks I have been working on a project involving authentic art journaling that combines watercolor painting and collaging with digital art. I am simultaneously exploring the changes in my journal entries from day to day and the blurring of lines between digital and traditional art. While creating this work, I’ve found myself slipping into a state of concentration, where I’m completely focused on creating a visual representation of my day and how I felt. Afterwords, I would take a deep breath and feel like a weight had been lifted from my mind. While the project has taught me the benefit of doing art journaling, I’ve also learned that sharing it can be difficult.
Vulnerability leads to creativity, innovation, to progress and change, as well as gratitude and joy. Dr. Brené Brown, who studies vulnerability, shame, fear, and bravery, has spent a lot of her career exploring the benefits of being vulnerable and they far outnumber the negatives. This work I’ve created means something to me, something very personal, and sharing something so personal can be difficult. So, I will share some of my entries below in hopes of inspiring others to be more vulnerable.
In taking the Practice of Group Therapy class here at King taught by Dr. Logan Love, I discovered that growth comes from vulnerability. I learned the power of sharing and the strange experience of having others agree. Never having known that this was the case for anyone but myself.
To close, I’ll offer an activity I have led our group through in class for you to complete in your own time. Think of the critical voice that whispers insecurities in your mind. Draw and give that voice a face other than your own, give them a personality, a style, etc. You can make them comical, human or animal, whatever feels right to you. Write down a few of the critical things they say in black, and in another color rewrite them into positive, nurturing statements. You can word them like affirmations or as letters to yourself. Then once you’ve finished, try sharing them with someone you trust, and maybe challenge them to do the activity themselves!
To learn more about the power of vulnerability watch Dr. Brene Brown’s Netflix special titled Brené Brown: The Call to Courage, or her TEDTalk.