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Using Art Therapy for Chronic Pain

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While art therapy may sound like a leisure activity for patients with minor problems, it is actually a highly effective treatment method used to ease suffering caused by multiple conditions.

What is Art Therapy?

Art therapy is a complementary health approach that combines art media, creativity, and artwork produced by patients to help restore them to a more normal functionality. While art therapy is part of the mental health profession, it is a mind and body technique that is also useful in other medical applications, such as helping those with chronic pain.

What is Chronic Pain?

Everyone feels physical pain, but it normally goes away quickly. Chronic pain does not. Doctors characterize it as pain that lasts three months or longer. Typically, the pain originates with an injury or surgery or from a medical condition, such as arthritis or fibromyalgia. Pain can be mild or severe, everything from a dull ache to shooting and burning pains, and it could occur on a daily basis or come and go. There may be other symptoms, such as mood changes, and all of them could negatively impact physical, emotional and mental aspects of daily life.

Treating Chronic Pain with Art Therapy

Doctors specializing in pain management may include art therapy in a patient’s treatment plan. Credentialed art therapists are mental health care professionals with at least a master’s degree, and they must have knowledge of drawing, painting, and other visual arts. There are two main art therapy approaches: process intensive and conscious and subconscious expression. With a process intensive approach, art is an emotional journey that helps patients discover something personal. The second approach is less concerned with the art-making process and more concerned with what the patient expresses with the art. Therapists can use the art to understand the patient’s subconscious, which helps get to underlying problems.

Before art therapy truly begins, the therapist must assess the patient’s condition. Next, art is added, and after the first artwork is complete, the therapist can make treatment plans and goals. One method used in art therapy is exploration tasks, such as free drawing and automatic drawing, which is also known as scribble technique. Other techniques include rapport-building, such as painting with an observer; self-perception, in which the patient draws themselves as an animal; and, interpersonal relations, which involves group portraits. Those dealing with chronic pain may find art therapy to be a beneficial addition to their treatment plan after talking to their pain management doctor.