How Does Art Therapy for Grief Work?

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Art therapy for grief healing provides bereaved individuals with an alternative way of processing and managing their grief responses. Art therapy as grief work can effectively treat individual differences among the grieving. While some people are resilient to their grief, others suffer from profound and long-term grief, numbness, and feelings of emptiness, leading to more complicated grief later down the line. 

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Traditional grief work in treating complicated grief varies from talk therapy, journaling, music therapy, and art therapy, among others. Not everyone reacts to grief in the same way, nor does everyone respond to every form of grief treatment. Any grief work should tailor approaches to healing complicated grief with each individual in mind.

Art therapy is one such approach that you can try. It helps heal grief by allowing a grieving individual to reconstruct and paint the narrative of their loss to make sense of it and find closure. 

How Does Art Allow You to Express Grief?

Grief is expressed through movement, written word, song, music, dance, painting, drawing, and journaling, among other methods. Art therapy allows for the bereaved soul to express grief in ways that words can’t. When it’s challenging to describe the effects of profound loss on your heart and soul, creative art therapy can help unleash your deepest sorrows by allowing you a free form of expression.

While counseling helps ease your emotional burdens, art therapy may be a practical alternative intervention. Creative self-expression facilitates the sharing of feelings, both visually and verbally, while relieving emotional distress in some. 

What is Art Therapy for Grief?

Art and therapy work together to heal grief by combining the two in therapeutic ways extending beyond recreation and relaxation. This type of grief therapy works with art materials for self-expression and reflection during a client's therapy sessions with a professional art therapist. 

Creating an image by the bereaved provides a foundational basis for the therapist and the client to begin their grief work. The therapist can now create a map to engage the healing process by exploring the client's experiences expressed through their art. The combination of past experiences and consequences is part of the makeup of what causes specific grief reactions to manifest. Art therapy helps pull these past traumas to the surface to explore during treatment.

Art therapy includes many different forms of expression and isn’t just limited to drawing or painting. While not everyone is an accomplished artist, anyone can participate in art therapy for grief healing. You can choose among many different art forms to best express your inner-most feelings.

Experienced grief art therapists will provide you with many grief activities to choose from. You can alternate among them depending on how you’re feeling on any particular day you go in for treatment. There aren’t any rigid rules, steps, or guidelines to follow when you choose art as a form of therapy. 

Purpose

There are many reasons why a grieving individual seeks art therapy as a form of bereavement help. The purpose of art therapy is to explore grief through different channels of self-expression. Creating art serves the unique sense of exploring deeper hidden causes of suffering that contribute to the grief reactions to the current loss in a bereaved individual's life. Art therapy is about both the artwork created as well as the process of making it. 

Art therapy aims to enable change and growth in a bereaved individual's grief journey. This form of exploration allows for expression and communication without recourse to words. It can enable a person to see the nature and extent of their suffering by painting a picture of their inner-most thoughts and feelings.  

What happens during a session?

If you're curious about what happens during grief counseling using art therapy as the primary form of expression, here are some things you can expect. 

Whenever starting something new, consider starting it with a specific end in mind. Whether it's healing from your grief, getting a reprieve from your pain and suffering, or finding new meaning and purpose in your life, you and your therapist can outline specific end goals to consider. 

Your first session usually focuses on getting acquainted with your therapist, talking about the significant losses in your life, and exploring your feelings and emotions resulting from them. Your therapist will then introduce you to the basics of art therapy, what goals you want to attain, and guide you to a clear path of reaching those goals.

Together, you and your therapist will explore different forms of art therapy. Art isn't limited to painting or drawing. It can include other art modalities and forms of expression such as writing, journaling, crafting, singing, and others.

If you're uncomfortable with your skill level, your therapist will walk you through the expectations of this type of therapy. It's also not about how good you are at painting or singing. Art therapy is about releasing your innermost feelings and emotions through various forms of expression.

How Do You Find a Therapist Who Uses Art Therapy?

Your location will determine the ease of finding an art therapist near you and the proximity to specialized therapists in your particular area. You can often find an art therapist through online referral services, your local hospital chaplain’s office, hospice care companies in your area, and nursing facilities.

Any of these make for great resources at locating a grief art therapist. If you’re having trouble finding one locally, you can try online resources like Udemy.com, which offers a low-cost arts therapy for self-healing courses. 

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How Can You Use Art to Express Your Grief on Your Own?

Not everyone will have access to a professional grief art therapist in their area. If you’re having trouble locating an art therapy provider, you can always try self-healing techniques. The extent and depth of your grief will guide you to the course of treatment you should seek.

If you’re unable to find an art therapist in your area or for whatever reason you choose to try art therapy as a form of self-healing, there are many ways you can express your grief on your own. Consider reading up on how other grieving individuals have overcome their pain and grief for some inspiration. Grief is ultimately a personal journey, and however you choose to heal from your pain and sorrow is your right to discover.

Art Therapy Project Ideas for Grief and Loss

Deciding to give art therapy a try on your own needn’t be intimidating. Creating art is as easy as finding ways of bringing your feelings and emotions to life in a safe environment where you’re free to express yourself. Art therapy promotes the creative expression of grief through various means that include some of the following ideas below. 

Sending a postcard

Imagining how your future pans out after suffering a significant loss can be difficult to envision. The profound pain and sorrow you experience after a loss can make it challenging to see beyond your suffering.

An art therapy project that’s both healing and challenging can include writing yourself a postcard from your future self, letting you know how things work out two, five, or ten years from now. This exercise challenges you to think about how you’ll recreate yourself and your life after loss. 

Creating a vision board

Grief vising boards are a tool of self-exploration. They allow you to create an entirely new life for yourself, focusing on whatever aspects you want to see a change in. Whether you need to reinvent yourself after a career loss or the death of a spouse or child, a vision board helps you map out the areas where you need to see change occur.

You can wait to start your vision board several months after experiencing loss, making changes along the way as needed. Trying to undertake this type of creative thinking too soon after loss may prove daunting and fruitless creating confusion.  

Dance and movement

Dance therapy helps heal painful emotions. The rhythmic movement of any kind is suitable for both physical and mental health during grief and bereavement. Setting your mood to music allows for the release of stressful emotions that weigh you down when grieving. It helps you access deep-seated feelings, bringing them to the surface to explore when talking with your grief therapist or counselor.

After each session, try to take a few minutes of self-reflection to write down what you felt and experienced.

Therapeutic coloring

Memorial artists can create for you a personalized grief coloring book of your loved one using some of your favorite photographs of the memories you’ve shared. This type of coloring book can have a therapeutic effect as you bring those memories to life on the days you’re feeling especially vulnerable.

The act of coloring in your memories opens up floodgates of emotion, helping you heal as you move past your grief. Grief coloring books also make beautiful gifts to others suffering from the same loss. Together you can share and compare each other’s creativity as you honor the memory of your loved one.

The Therapeutic Effect of Grief Art 

Almost everyone who suffers a significant loss in life can benefit from the creative expression of their grief. Grief art enables bereaved individuals to explore their sorrow as they come to terms with their loss. The art created also serves as a backdrop for exploring past grief and loss to help create a promising future full of hope and healing. 

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