The process of treating psychiatric disorders and mental illnesses always involves a very careful consideration of patients’ feelings, emotions, and fears. The life of an individual is a constantly progressive journey where the cause of events will necessarily lead to consequences and inner reflections. Therefore, the essentials of facilitating help people with different psychiatric issues not to evolve only around treating the outer cause of events, but also encourage a person to see and express the deepest emotions, feelings, and fears. Today’s professionals assign a crucial role to art therapy in the process of unrooting what stands behind the mental problems and healing the inner world of a person.
As discussed in the article “Teens Paint their Pain” by Brad Ryan, art therapy can be effectively harnessed in the process of recovering from a number of mental disorders and likewise induced issues.
Mental illness and abnormal behavior touches the lives of people through different manifestations and outcomes. One of those ultimate outcomes is committing a suicide. Tragically, approximately one million people die of suicide every year. The mortality rate worldwide is about 16 per 100.000, or in other words – one suicide event takes place every 40 seconds. Moreover, 55% of suicides occur to people before they reach the age of 44 (Plante, 2006). The state of mind of a suicidal person is inevitably affected and distorted by a number of things. An ultimate feeling of weariness of life is brought by efforts to achieve inner peace. Meaningfulness and discouragement reside in their vital connections elicited by certain life disappointments. The term “psychache” describes a state of deep suffering that makes one’s perception of living turn into a dark and dismal process of existing.
While for some people, suicide appears to be an abrupt and unreasonable action, others consider it to occur as a result of drama that takes place inside one’s mind. Edwin Shneidman, cited in Thomas Plante’s work “Mental Disorders of the New Millennium” (2006), explains that suicide is “a multifaceted event and those biological, cultural, sociological, interpersonal, logical, conscious and unconscious, and philosophical elements are present in each suicidal event” (p.167). There is no denying the fact that all these facets play crucial role in imposing certain feelings, fears and expectations on a person. One of the biggest factors among these is sociology of suicide. Suicidal events correlate significantly with social status and the degree to which a person, the “self” is involved in the society (Powell, 2003). The latter includes the macrolayer – the community of residence, and the microlevel – the circle of family, friends and acquiantences. Thus, preventing suicides is interrelated with support, overcoming stereotypes, achieving equality and respect in the community. It has to do with family involvement, care and healthy home environment, in which people would feel their well-being, involvement and worthiness.
Preventing suicides involves a number of various steps and measures which might prove efficient depending on the case. Health care providers and family members are to demonstrate high level of cooperation and understanding. This can be done through employing internal coping strategies, offering support without discussing suicidal thoughts and intentions, providing a healthy home environment so that a patient feels support from his family. However, the process of treating patients with mental illnesses and depressions is more complicated as they do not always demonstrate their intentions to commit a suicide, or communicate about it. Thus, one of the most crucial steps is recognizing the warning signs (Safety Plan Treatment Manual to Reduce Suicide Risk, 2008).
The sessions of art therapy can help predict suicide cases by aiding communication between health care providers and the patients. According to the article by Brad Ryan, art therapy facilitates a silent dialogue through interpretation of which the feelings, emotions and concerns of a patient can be comprehended. The importance of art therapy is also manifested in differentiating between suicidal and non-suicidal self-harm behavior. Non-suicidal self-harm behavior is not, in fact, associated with intent to commit a suicide. It is summoned by a number of reasons connected with peer pressure, attention insufficiency in the family and psychiatric disorders (Mash & Barkley, 1999). In this case individual’s behavior is often controlled by the very individual to demonstrate suicidal intentions. On the other hand, the unconscious thoughts and true-to-life intentions cannot be falsified. The art therapy sessions help to reveal these true intentions and the state of mind of a patient.
Brad Ryan mentions that in many cases the emotion that is trapped in patients’ mind is anger. Anger is one’s internal reaction to certain external events, which demonstrates how important these events are for an individual. The psychological and physiological predisposition to experience anger is certainly characteristic for humans. Even emotionally healthy human beings go through this feeling several times a day (Bilodeau, 2001).
However, anger is mistakenly considered to be a highly threatening emotion. It should be noted that it is definitely not a chronic illness that has to be managed, but an internal reaction whose main purpose is to defend an individual who experiences it. In most cases it does not even need to be managed, but used properly in a social context to fulfill its protective function. Patients experience anger for a number of reasons. They can be angry from suffering some serious illnesses, failing to establish proper relationships with family members, or from self-destructive actions and decisions they make (Potter-Efron, 2005).
In fact, anger is considered to be a survival mechanism by a number of professionals. It prepares the body for certain battles and makes it stronger in facing and responding to everyday situations and threats (Bilodeau, 2001).
Holding this crucial feeling inside and refusing to express it or let others know about, leads to accumulation of negative emotions that are being trapped without releasing.
A perfect example of anger mechanism can be demonstrated in case of young children abandoned by one or both parents. Anger incites because children depend on their parents to fulfill survival needs. Abandonment means that their survival is in danger. As a reaction to such risks a person intents to defend the normal way of things becoming angry at people who placed them at risk. If anger is not released it is carried through life (Bilodeau, 2001).
Art therapy facilitates anger release through different forms of creative activities. Most importantly, it helps patients express the feeling of anger and avoid its aggressive manifestations with all the negative consequences implied.
Art therapy sessions are also considered to be effective when dealing with patients with post-traumatic disorder (whether it is war veterans or children suffering from abusive environment and parent abandonment). Thus, post-traumatic disorder results from exposure to a highly crucial event or series of events. The events are usually sudden, extremely extraordinary and overwhelming. The mechanism of reaction towards these events involves the disruption of normal coping responses of an individual and his inability to react properly.
There exist the following potential traumatic stressors: intentional malicious actions – wars, sexual, physical and emotional abuse, witnessing parents’ fear reactions, alcoholism, suicide, damage of body parts; unintentional human accidents – fires, explosion, accidents; acts of nature – hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes, avalanche, floods (Schiraldi, 2000).
Post-traumatic disorder is considered to be an anxiety disorder. The latter accounts for an impressive array of symptoms, such as physical symptoms – tension, trembling, tingling, nausea, pounding heart; emotional fatigue – moodiness, fear, irritation, loss of confidence, exaggerated emotions; mental fatigue – confusion, inability to remember, concentrate, or make decision; spiritual fatigue – discouragement, despair, and hopelessness.
The effectiveness of art therapy in helping patients with post-traumatic and anxiety disorders is explained by the fact that the hallmark of these two complications is avoidance. Patients flee from things, objects and reminders that trigger memories. On a subconscious level, however, a person wants to master his or her fears and be rewarded with short-term anxiety reduction (Schiraldi, 2000). Art therapy helps patients express this desire through creative and relaxing activities. It is simultaneously a distraction from a stressor event and a constant encouragement to face the triggers and tame one’s fear.
One of the main causes of children’s mental disorders mentioned in the article is the environment of abusive homes, which is a part of child’s exposure to violence. Violence is a public-health problem, and children are highly vulnerable to its effects (McCue, 2008). Apart from being a main source of injury, violence also takes a toll on cognitive, emotional, social and behavioral aspects of functioning (Margolin & Gordis, 2004). Major categories of violence are child maltreatment, aggression between family members, and community violence.
Exposure to family and community violence is directly linked to the onset of aggression, depression, anxiety disorders, cognitive and academic difficulties and impairments (Margolin & Gordisk, 2004). Children who were raised in abusive homes and undergo any violent actions have a higher likelihood of arrests for delinquency, adult criminality, and violent criminal behavior. The so-called “cycle of violence” hypothesis holds true by stating that violence begets violence, and experience of child abuse and neglect imposes a significant impact and delineates the long-term consequences in the form of mental health disorders and high criminality rates (Widom, 1989).
Major events in people’s life influence the way they feel, think, learn, and communicate with others and function. Mental illnesses are interrelated with a wide array of consequences and causes, such as suicidal intentions, attempts, and events, post-traumatic stress, exposure to violence through victimization and witnessing violence and abusive environment exposure, experiencing the feeling of anger. In addition to traditional therapeutic treatment art therapy helps patients communicate, reveal their emotions, fears and anticipations in order to make their recovery more effective.
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