Individuals who live with chronic pain often have a hard time finding the words to accurately describe it because their experiences are nuanced and multi-faceted; yet they are expected to do so all the time by their doctors, friends, coworkers and family. Struggling to communicate their experience can be frustrating for both the individual and the people on the sidelines, who in trying to communicate, are only trying to support. Those living with chronic pain do not need this extra frustration. Therefore, finding alternative modes of articulation and expression is incredibly helpful to the emotional, spiritual and psychological well being of these individuals.
Art Therapy could be one of these alternative and healing forms of expression. Art does not necessitate translation of experience into words. Art does not does not require anything but an artist. Therefore, making art has proven to be a highly effective form of therapy for dealing with intense conditions such as chronic pain. Art has always been used as a powerful tool; of resistance, of political organization, of catharsis… and now as a tool for managing pain.
Art therapy allows you to develop a personalized language to express yourself, making it very compatible with pain management; the art you create can and will be as intricately personalized to you as the pain you experience. With art therapy, there are no roles for the consumer nor the critic, no requirements to make the art legible, no rules or guidelines, and no right or wrong. Art therapy is about expressing your experience, through a creative medium, and in turn materializing and engaging with that experience.
Despite what you may think, you don’t need any previous artistic experience to engage in art therapy, so try not to dismiss this form of healing simply because you don’t consider yourself an artist! Art therapy has nothing to do with talent or skill, only creating the opportunity for you to emote in whatever way you want. Any and all creative mediums are encouraged: poetry, photography, music, film, painting, movement, dance, a monologue, a collage… again, it is completely up to you and what you feel comfortable with (although engaging with a medium that makes you uncomfortable might be a healthy challenge!). If you are totally freaked out by being creative, try collaging; all you need is a pair of scissors, tape or glue, paper, and material to collage with such as recycled magazines, newspapers, medical pamphlets, etc.
Perhaps most importantly, art therapy allows you to own your healing process and be an active participant in it. By articulating your relationship with pain through colors, words, sounds, movement or images, you are working to understand it and put it in perspective. Channeling emotion in this unconventional way creates openings wide enough for feelings to slip through, feelings that you would normally do a good job of suppressing. This may lead you to discover things about yourself that you did not know, and this process of discovery actively pushes you forward in the healing process.
Plus, how often do you get to make art? Use this as an excuse to take time out of your schedule and be creative. It might be fun and calming, it might be challenging and emotional; everyone has a different experience. But no matter what, it will force you to engage with your pain in an alternative way and ultimately will enhance your own pain management.
Some exercises to try:
• Silhouette Collaging: Draw the outline of your body on a piece of paper. Fill the inside of the shape with words, images, and colors. Whatever is going on inside your head.
• “Found” Material Collaging: Take medical supplies you’ve been given, informational pamphlets, cards from your friends, anything… cut them up and reimagine them.
• Journaling: Keep a journal! Write check-ins every night. Include anything you want; poetry, doodles, thought maps…
• Mask Making: This provides an opportunity to engage with personal identity and to explore the interaction between your internal and external appearance.
• Personalized Cards: Decorate cards and send them with letters to the people you love.
• Photo Diary: Photography is an accessible yet powerful way to capture a moment or a feeling. Buy a disposable camera and fill the roll up in one day to show in images what an average day in your shoes looks like.