Last week, July 5-11, marked National Therapeutic Recreation Week that is observed the second week of July every year since 1984. This week highlights recreation therapies and the importance of engaging in activities that can aid in our healing and recovery. What is recreational therapy? It is the use of recreation and other activities as a form of intervention to address the physical, emotional and mental health and recovery of an individual. Recreation therapy can include activities such as sports, hobbies, relaxation/breathing techniques and creative or expressive art. These kinds of programs can be conducted in a variety of spaces such as hospitals, rehab facilities, community centers and assisted living facilities.

After the death of my mother, dealing with her demise has not been easy. I have been faced with grief, loss and the new responsibility of being a caretaker for my father. As a way to cope with everything, I have been participating in expressive art therapy sessions. I decided to focus in this type of therapy because it is a multi-modal approach that uses the arts (writing, dancing, drama, movement, music, painting, drawing.) in an integrative way to foster growth, development and healing.

Art therapy can be used to help people explore their emotions, cope with stress, become more self-aware, boost their self-esteem and to work on their social skills. It is mostly used as a compliment to traditional mental health treatment. The art therapy can either be in a form of creating one’s own art or viewing/interpreting another person’s artwork. It is helpful to those who find talking and expressing themselves verbally to be very difficult. This is mainly because art is a form of self-expression and in the long run it is a form of healing and dealing with our mental wellbeing.

As I engage in this form of therapy, I personally see a lot of benefits from it. Some of the benefit include:

  • Visual representation of one’s emotions
  • It is a way of connecting to the subconscious
  • Learning new coping mechanisms
  • It is a way of developing new (artistic) skills

Those are just but a few benefits or expressive arts. Expressive arts can be beneficial to people dealing with:

  • Anxiety: It helps to bring to light what may be worrying you and finding new ways to handle anxious feelings.
  • Stress: It helps in reduction of stress by converting negative energy into positive habits.
  • Interpersonal relationships with family members or friends: It helps to build communication skills for those who find it hard to express themselves with words.
  • Grief or Bereavement: It helps to process the loss of a loved one.
  • Trauma. A lot of people tend to block out painful experiences, art therapy helps one to express their feelings about the event and taking steps to heal and move forward.

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