Art Therapy: Painting to Heal

Art therapy takes one woman from depression to wellness.

| November 2013

Through art projects—including visual arts, dance, writing, and music—along with spiritual practices and guided imagery, Healing With the Arts (Beyond Words, 2013) by Michael Samuels, MD and Mary Rockwood Lane, PhD gives readers the tools to heal physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual ailments. The following excerpt from “Beginning the Journey” tells the tale of a woman who found healing and sought to heal others through art therapy.

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Mary’s Story: Painting to Heal

Twenty years ago, life challenged me. I became depressed and everything in my life shattered and changed. I felt like I was drifting away from myself and all that I knew. In a moment of despair, I realized I had a vision and a dream that I had never actualized. I always wanted to be an artist but did not have the time or skill, and did not know how to go about learning. It was a turning point in my life. I became increasingly depressed and immobilized. In spite of therapy, self-help books, and workshops, I was floundering. I was trying to find something outside myself to ease my pain.

Then, there was a miracle. A friend of mine invited me to a studio to make art. It was a ray of hope—something that interested me. Everything in my life had turned bland until I started to paint. Art became my sun, my water, and my food. It energized me so much that I felt alive again. I fell in love with becoming an artist. I started painting every day. My creative process was like a river: a wellspring of energy that was profoundly healing and transformative. This experience changed me to my core. I had an experience of healing so profound I became well and I became a different person.

I tapped into my own enthusiasm and power to experience being truly alive. I worked every day in my studio. I invited the artist into my life and I became the artist of my own life. It was a point of departure where I never looked back. My life was on a path to fill a destiny that was unfolding. I knew something was happening that was deeply profound and connected me to my spiritual purpose.

I took out a large canvas and did not even know how to hold a brush. I looked though magazines and saw a picture of a woman who was broken and distorted. That was how I felt. I started painting. I got excited about the colors of the paint, how the shapes appeared on the paper. My painting was large. As I worked, it started to look like something—it looked like my pain, how I felt. I forgot about how I felt and instead looked at how I felt. I got excited about the making of the painting.

Carol Panaro-smith
11/18/2013 10:27:12 AM

Regarding the previous comment, while it is true that there is a difference in skilled art therapy and using art as a therapeutic tool-I believe that anyone can use visual art tools to express and heal. It is limiting to infer that the only path to catharsis is through a trained art therapist and to express that doing one's art isn't art therapy is to discount the power of creative expression.

11/13/2013 6:59:29 PM

Doing art on one's own isn't "art therapy" any more than stretching at home is "physical therapy," tying one's shoes is "occupational therapy," or enunciating words is "speech therapy," unless of course, those activities are part of a prescribed treatment plan provided by a credentialed therapist in the respective discipline. The title of the article and subsequent mentions of "art therapy" are a disservice to all trained, credentialed art therapists, and perpetuates ignorance about art therapy.