As a devotee of art, you grasp its power to inspire, inform and instigate. But what about its power to rehabilitate? A new program in Connecticut is getting encouraging feedback from the at-risk and health-challenged participants of a project that involves them in arts-themed activities as an alternative form of treatment. Their artwork and testimony is now on display in a fresh exhibit — “The Art of Healing” — that will travel to a variety of southeastern Connecticut venues throughout the summer.
The project is the outcome of brainstorming sessions of seven health and social service agencies that decided to try art therapy for the individuals they treat who struggle with a wide range of conditions — from mental or physical disabilities to substance abuse, depression, psychiatric disorders, social fears and more. Coordinated under the guidance of the Southeastern Connecticut Cultural Coalition, the agencies have more than 700 individuals of all ages engaged in arts-based projects, and overall, they provide therapeutic and education services for 24,000 in New London County.
Wendy Bury, executive director of the Southeastern Connecticut Cultural Coalition, explained that the decision to try art therapy was influenced by the promising results being observed where it is used. Engaging patients in creative activities is “happening around the world,” Bury said. “In fact, the U.S. is a little late to the game on this one.” Art therapy has been practiced in England for more than a decade. Studies there have concluded that involving patients in creative projects improves cognition, memory and concentration; reduces anxiety, depression and stress; and helps patients to deal with grief, anger and frustrating conditions. Artists who partake in these projects also testify that it is a rewarding and sometimes transformative experience.