How Does Art Help With Grief and Loss?


Grief is the human response to loss that almost everyone will one day experience in their lifetimes. The longer a person lives, the more likely it is that they'll experience some traumatic event that'll cause them grief. Some individuals may grieve without direction on how to release their feelings and emotions to help them cope with their profound pain and sorrow.

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Grief responses may cause depression and anxiety or manifest in physical or cognitive issues lasting anywhere from several weeks to several years. Creative art and expression can help ease some of these feelings of grief after loss for some people who've suffered significant setbacks. Grief expression through art can help process traumatic experiences and alleviate suffering for those who are mourning. 

How Can Art Help With the Grieving Process?

Expressive art therapy helps you express feelings and emotions that you can't find the words for. Artistic expression to ease the pain of sorrow is expressed through what's known as grief art. Allowing creativity to take over your grief enables you to process your pain and suffering in ways that you may not have examined before. Creating art in any form helps ground you and keeps you focused on the present. 

The creative process gets you out of your head and into your body. The fluid motions associated with art help you slow down, lower your blood pressure, and regulate your heart rate. Art also lets you connect to your deceased loved one by offering a way to memorialize them and your grief experience.

This artistic process is a way to create tangible artwork to hold in your hands that reminds you of your loved one. By creating a unique piece of art, you'll always have a physical representation of that relationship to look at or hold on to when you need to feel closer to your loved one. 

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What Are the Different Ways You Can Use Art to Process Grief?

Art therapy encourages individuals to stimulate their imaginations when they’re struggling to get through their grief at any point in the grieving process. Grief and loss activities, along with conscious art therapy, help humans respond to setbacks and to fashion their feelings and emotions. 

The expression of grief through art influences a bereaved person's outlook on their grief. It helps them unblock their suppressed emotions and gives a new meaning to their pain and suffering. Art therapy combines a bereaved person's sounds, mental images, movement, and imagination to create a process that relieves the pain and tension associated with grief.

Art therapy also provides a safe place to examine one's suffering as creativity takes shape. There are many different ways to use art therapy to process grief, ranging from the written word to artistic expressions on canvas, or through song and interpretive dance. 

Some standard tools a grief therapist might use to help someone suffering from grief are:

Interpretive dance. Freeform interpretive dance allows for freedom in the interpretation of grief through the art form of creative movement. Dancing incorporates the grieving process's physical and emotional aspects, giving bereaved people the freedom to express their pain and sorrow through movement. 

The dancer's body is used as an instrument of healing from grief. Dancing connects the person's mind and body to affect the whole person as healing begins to take shape. A trained grief therapist can guide their patients through the grieving process in much the same way a counselor might guide patients through cognitive talk therapy in traditional grief sessions. 

Music composition. Music can be a powerful tool in helping bereaved persons heal from grief. Music has the power to influence a person's mood and promote healing from within. It can help slow down the brain's reactions and responses to grief, alleviate anxiety and overall tension throughout the body. 

Music can regulate an individual's heartbeat, reduce stress, and ease depression. A person experiencing grief-related symptoms may benefit from music composition and performance as a form of grief art therapy. People who create music feel more calm, centered, and relaxed than without having music as part of their overall grief healing tools.

Painting on canvas. Painting on canvas is a way for grieving people to release their feelings and emotions through the creation of art. Creative art is a form of expression for pain, sorrow, anger, anxiety, and every other feeling or emotion stirred up by grief that someone might not have the words for. 

Whenever someone is stuck in their distress, unable to come up with the right words to express their profound sadness, painting allows for an alternate means of grief expression. Creating art is a way to heal after having experienced loss. 

Art therapy in personal exploration

Art therapy provides grieving individuals with an opportunity to explore their deeper hidden feelings and emotions attached to their grief. This method of personal exploration through self-expression benefits both adults and children who are having difficulty expressing themselves through ordinary channels.

Humans respond to setbacks through a natural grieving process that allows them to fashion their feelings and emotions through spoken language, physical and emotional manifestations, and creative expression.  When a person is unable to express themselves fully due to suppressed grief, art therapy helps to unblock those hidden emotional responses by creating an alternate form of expression.

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Art acts as an anchor

Grief and the resulting feelings and emotions can make a person feel as if they've lost control of their feelings and their life in general. The ebbs and flows caused by the grieving process may seem overwhelming and challenging to keep under control.

Grief expressed through art keeps your emotions grounded when you’re feeling overwhelmed with loss. It can help individuals process their grief when they struggle to cope in private and during times of public mourning when it may be even more challenging to process a devastating loss. Art helps to stabilize these emotions and acts as an anchor to grief.

Art helps open up suppressed emotions

Many bereaved individuals find it challenging to open up and express their grief-related feelings and emotions. The grieving process may seem overwhelming for some, and they'll naturally withdraw from friends and family who can offer some help and support.

When grief is left unattended for long periods of time, it can manifest in the form of chronic sadness and depression. Art helps open up suppressed grief emotions by encouraging creative expression with no set end in mind. This freeflow creative process allows grief to manifest and take on a direction of its own, allowing grief's narrative to emerge gradually.

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How Does Art Therapy Work for Adults or Children?

Art therapy allows people who are mourning the loss of a loved one to open up to the opportunity to express their grief-related feelings and emotions. The creation of art helps with processing sensory and emotional experiences in the bereaved.

Individuals who've lost a loved one or who've suffered from other types of significant losses in life describe their grief in terms of feeling sad, depressed, or living in a fog, unable to concentrate or think clearly. 

These experiences align with the right side of the brain responsible for sensory and emotional reactions, which are expressed creatively much more readily than through cognitive means. Through the art-making process used in art therapy, the process itself and not the art created is what's more important. The creative process allows for pent-up emotions to release themselves onto a blank canvas, as sculpture, or in a song.

The art therapist's role is to walk the bereaved through the process of discussion, which engages the left side of the brain. When working together, the right and left sides of the brain unite to help a person place meaning in their work.

The result is that both sides of the brain work together to help the healing process. The bereaved can process their feelings and emotions and make meaning of their loss through the artful expression of their grief.  

Because art therapy uses both the mind and body as an expression in promoting healing, every time you engage in creating a painting, a song, or a written poem, you’re engaging mental processes that are physically engaging and that stimulate healing. Art therapy typically lasts anywhere from 8 to 15 weeks, with recovery taking place in the duration. The process for children mirrors that adults. Here are some ways that art therapy helps you heal.

  • Gives you a reprieve from your grief
  • Stimulates healing to increase your wellbeing
  • Helps you process traumatic events
  • Increases levels of joy and happiness
  • Provides a safe place for emotional release

Art therapy can be used as a creative grief ritual, like other types of grief rituals, to help process grief. It can help serve as an introduction to grief therapy for both children and adults and can be used in combination with other tools to help families overcome the painful setbacks associated with experiencing a significant loss. 

Healing Grief Through Art

Grief is a highly personal experience for everyone who's touched by tragedy in their lives. There's no one way to get through it, and each individual's experience will be different from the next.

Over time, painful feelings and emotions will evolve, and adaptation to changed circumstances will follow. Along with the proper support, counseling, and other tools, art therapy helps along the bereavement process and may aid in offsetting some of the complications caused by grief.


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