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Why Art Therapy Is Important

for Veterans and the Public

Why Art Therapy Is Important

Everyone who is creative has made time to play. It loosens up the brain and enables you to be open to new ideas. This includes playing around with paint or words or wood. Be open to what happens, and let what happens tell you what to do next.

In my art therapy classes, I'll put on some serene music while everyone paints. A favorite is "Serenity Suite" by Steven Halpern. It helps people calm down, center themselves, focus on their art, and drop into another mental state, into a flow, where all other thoughts and worries vanish. Some veterans say it's the first time all day that they have really felt calm.

It's not difficult to get started. Here's what I suggest for anyone who would like to pursue a creative outlet like painting or writing:

  • Find an adult education class at your local high school. Many of them are on nights or weekends and are inexpensive.
  • Take a class at a community or junior college. The tuition is usually low and you don't need to enroll in an entire program, just a class.

To get started without classes:

  • Just go to an art store or variety store. Buy a sketchbook, spiral bound or hardbound, but one that opens flat, so you can draw or paint in it easily. Choose one that has heavier paper, so you can use watercolors or draw in the same book. Buy some oil pastels, a soft drawing pencil (a 4B or 5B, for example), a pen (such as a Pilot Hi Tec-C, #0.4 or 0.5), thin or thick markers, or a tin of watercolors. If you get watercolor paints, I recommend the Prang brand with 16 colors, because the paints have more pigment than most inexpensive brands, and they will be more satisfying to use.
  • Try to draw something every day. Many people, when they wake up, draw or paint some little scribble or sketch about how they are feeling at that moment. It gets the creative juices flowing. It helps you to center yourself, and get oriented to the day. (For 50 years, John Ruskin, the Victorian artist and philosopher, got up every morning and painted the sky!)
  • When you fill a sketchbook, you have a body of work that gives you a record of your experiences during that time, and that you will really enjoy looking back at. Be sure to turn off your critic while you are drawing, painting, and looking back at earlier work. These are exercises for your inner life, not for the Museum of Modern Art.

    Or, maybe you are a word person. You could get up every morning and write down whatever comes to mind. It doesn't have to have any meaning, just get it out of you so you can start the day with a clean slate. Again, keep these writings in a notebook, so that you have a record of your efforts. The more you do these kinds of things, the more you will notice your feelings when they occur, and you will pay more attention to your intuition.
  • Try creating a collage. Take some old magazines and cut out pictures that have some meaning for you, that touch you in some way. Glue them on paper. The pictures may bring words to mind that express your feelings or thoughts. For example, imagine:
    • Your life story
    • Fun experiences from childhood
    • Your goals as a child and how they relate to your life today
    • What your personal Sanctuary would look like

    You can draw or paint or write on your pictures, whatever seems right to you at the time.

The important thing is to play and experiment. Over time, you may even find that there's a serious artist in you who's ready to reach further out.

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