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Art treating pain? Really?

Updated: Jul 13, 2021


We are in a cultural shift back to the grass roots of managing pain with art therapy.


More prominent and traditional educational institutions are researching and confirming this theory. Whether this 'alternate therapy' is used as an adjunct therapy or a total replacement, one thing is clear: Art Therapy is paving the way to lowering pain levels and improving quality of life for patients in both the acute care setting and people with chronic pain conditions. As Art Therapy becomes synonymous as an alternate way to treat varying pain conditions, we have to ask ourselves, “How so?”


Art therapy is very different from a standard art class. Matthew Sloan from Harvard Medical University explains “While they both create art, art therapy involves working with a registered or board-certified art therapist who guides you through the creative process while exploring how it relates to your pain.”



So I decided to interview a certified art therapist and came across an Sydney based Art Therapist and Energy Artist, Sharon Veness to better understand how this process works. She is a passionate advocate for empowering patients to self-heal through, what she calls ‘transpersonal therapies”. Transpersonal therapy is a self-directed form of therapy. Transpersonal therapy helps patients seek understanding of their own illness and to choose how they want to resolve that illness. The trick, though, is that the client ‘has to want’ to fix their problems.


Sharon has seen firsthand how art therapy has treated chronic psychosomatic pain. She had a client who was a young 30 year old man who had severe chronic pain in his legs. After engaging in art therapy for a period of time, she observed his pain levels decreasing, his mood improved, and his anger reduced. Furthermore, she noted that as he moved through the therapy sessions, his confidence went up resulting in re-entering the workforce. “People stop thinking when they are doing art” she says, “the unconscious part of the brain switches on and people are able to let their guard down.” Her experiences is a great demonstration of how art therapy helps lower the perception of pain by diverting one's thoughts away from pain and thereby reducing the overall impact of the pain.


Whilst art therapy is still seen as a relatively new treatment of pain, there is plenty of research available to validate its efficacy. Kelsey Skerpan, an Art Psychotherapist has written and researched extensively about treating pain with art: “When people are in pain, they often lose their sense of control since their pain dictates what they can and cannot do…Engaging in art therapy helps them reclaim ownership in their lives in terms of what art they choose and the steps they take to create something unique. It can provide a powerful form of self-expression as well as a creative outlet.”



Furthermore, a study done in 2015 by Tamara. A. Shella, supporting Sharron’s observations. 195 patients were tested in the acute care setting to see if Art Therapy had an impact on pain and anxiety levels. Analysis of the study demonstrated “significant improvements in pain, mood, and anxiety levels of art therapy sessions within all patients regardless of gender, age, or diagnosis.” The recommendations cited by the study advised that Art Therapy should be used as an adjunct therapy in the acute setting to help reduce pain and anxiety levels. She conducted another study in February 2018 looking at close to 200 people hospitalized for a medical issue or surgery. The results concluded that when a patient engages in art therapy for about 50 minutes, their pain levels significantly improved.


These ‘alternate therapies’ are quickly moving to the forefront of preferred treatment options amongst medical professionals as critical research proves that we can push beyond traditional drug interventions and into a more diversified and empowering approach to treating pain.


 

If you would like to get in touch with Sharon Vaness, you can reach her at: Website: https://www.sharonveness.com.au/




 

If you would like to escape into the moment to clear some headspace, check out my new EBook on how to draw flowers. There are a wide range of flowers you can learn to draw, or, you can use the adult colouring pages at the back of the book. Just $5.99 for a limited time only.





REFERENCES:

Shella, Tamara. (2017). Art Therapy Improves Mood, and Reduces Pain and Anxiety when Offered at Bedside during Acute Hospital Treatment. The Arts in Psychotherapy. 57. 10.1016/j.aip.2017.10.003.

Shella, Tamara (2017), Art therapy improves mood, and reduces pain and anxiety when offered at bedside during acute hospital treatment, The Arts in Psychotherapy ,Volume 57, 2018, Pages 59-64, ISSN 0197-4556, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.aip.2017.10.003.

Sloan, Matthew (2018), Harvard Health Publishing -Harvard Medical School, https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/art-therapy-another-way-to-help-manage-pain-2018071214243 ,

Vaness, Sharon (2021), Telephone Interview

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