I tell stories about my own life. I write them, speak them, paint them, sing them, and sometimes when I don’t feel like doing any of those things, I act them out. And the common question others ask in relation to all of this is, “Did it feel better to release those pent-up emotions?” I think what people are usually referring to is related directly to art therapy.
According to the Art Therapy Association of America, art therapy is a process in which trained professionals (art therapists) use the production of artwork to “explore their feelings, reconcile emotional conflicts, foster self-awareness, manage behavior and addictions, develop social skills, improve reality orientation, reduce anxiety, and increase self-esteem.”
I’ve noticed that there is sometimes a dispute regarding the use of art as therapy. Artists, for one, like to think that art is a mystical creature that transcends psychologists’ understanding. Therapists seem to see therapeutic potential in basically everything. But in a way, maybe they’re both right.
Art, in all its forms, allows for a person to express things that, in reality, are typically inexpressible. It allows us to get in touch with a part of ourselves we might not otherwise be ready or willing to acknowledge. For practicing artists, though, this is often overlooked. Art our work and therefore our greatest stressor. But as much as I sometimes want to throw my writing out the window, I do find some therapeutic benefits in painting, drawing, singing, expressing myself and my feelings in ways that are atypical to my everyday experience.
Exploring life from different perspectives is important. It reminds us of aspects of ourselves that may be commonly overlooked. It highlights our similarities with other humans as well as showing us how we are unique from the crowd. And though art does this very well on its own, an article by psychology writer Kendra Cherry points out that art therapy specifically targets those emotions that need release.
The thing I’ve noticed most about literary storytelling as an art form—and many artists agree that all art is storytelling—is that stories mimic life but are independent of it. When we experience them, they come alive, emerging into the world with us. There is always something relatable in a story, whether that is to the individual or the overall human experience. Stories, art, show us that we’re not alone. Usually in a more abstract way than simply coming out and saying it.
Sometimes, whether as therapy or as plain art, it’s important to get in touch with the more abstract part of ourselves, rather than taking life too literally. The arts offer us not an outward escape from a place we will dread coming back to, but an escape to an inward place, where we create, rebuild, and transform our internal conflicts into some sense of peace.