Art and the Bereaved: AfterTalk Pandemic Weekly

Art and the Bereaved: How Can Art Creation Be A Vital Aid?

By Katlyn Eriksen

The current pandemic is proving to be a ‘double crisis’ for people with depression, and the Anxiety and Depression Association of America predicts that PTSD could be one long-term mental health effect of COVID-19. The situation is, of course, more severe for those who have lost a loved one  to the virus, which has taken almost 1.88 million lives globally. Those who are going through the different cycles of grief may require cognitive, emotional and social support. They may also find relief from holistic activities, complementary therapy with animals, nature activities, and one therapy that has long been used as an aid for those battling depression and other complications of bereavement – art creation and art therapy.

Why Art?

Art therapy expert, Edith Kramer, espouses that art is an essential part of the human experience. As is the case with nature, when people are deprived of creative abilities, there are many consequences for their health and wellbeing. The current human relationship with technology means that many children and adults are being deprived of the benefits that art creation (and art therapy for those battling mental Art and the Bereaved AfterTalk Grief Supportconditions such as substance abuse and depression) can bring. The many documented benefits of artistic creation include reductions in depression and anger, and increases in self-esteem (as found by Maujean and colleagues, 2014). Art also provides an excellent avenue for expression, self-awareness, and self-communication – all of which are crucial during the grieving process. Art brings the creator a sense of control at a time in which everything may seem out of control. As stated by education specialist Meagan Dye, it creates a sense of empowerment “because it can provide distance from overwhelming emotions,” such as those faced by the bereaved.

Art At Any Level

If you have never had a close relationship with creativity and you are currently in bereavement, you may wonder what value artistic creation or formal art therapy may have for you. A Drexel University study has found that even complete beginners can benefit from creating art. In the study, scientists observed a big drop in stress hormone levels after participants created artworks for around 45 minutes. There are many free online tutorials on aspects such as drawing facial features like the eyes, which are vital if you wish to draw the person who has passed away. There are actually many ways in which you can draw a face – from simple and minimalist to highly detailed. Of course, you don’t have to draw your loved one; you may instead wish to express your inner world through symbolic works representing natural forms or scenes, or items that were part of the important relationship you had with the person you lost.

Art Therapy And Complicated Grief

Complicated grief – in which painful emotions do not improve with time and are so severe that a person may have trouble resuming their lives – requires professional help and psychotherapy. Studies have shown that art therapy can be an excellent complementary approach to both psychotherapy and medication in these cases. The expressive arts are used in many ways in this respect – for instance, full-sized body tracing is sometimes used in group therapy to help individuals visualize and talk about body sensations and thoughts that occur while they are speaking of their loss. Some therapists ask clients to create a visual storyboard using collage or other methods to provide visual continuity to their life story. Others use photography (family snapshots and new photos) to describe a deceased person’s role in a family or friendship group.

There are so many ways in which art can be used to express loss, anger, and other powerful emotions that take place during the grieving process. Creativity can be used for those experiencing complicated grief as well; indeed, it can form part of a multifaceted approach that may also involve psychotherapy. Even those who are not undergoing formal art therapy can benefit from creating works that keep them grounded, reduce their stress, and introduce a sense of control and achievement during a time in which so many things seem beyond human control.

Every Wednesday we will be publishing Pandemic Weekly for, we hope, not too long. We invite you to submit your thoughts, essays, poems or songs. Please send to info@aftertalk.com.

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