How important are creative pursuits for mental health?
Penny Bell Says...
A developmental psychologist called Howard Gardner came up with a theory about intelligence that’s created a lot of interest and had this question among others in mind. He put forth the idea that people possess more than one kind of intelligence and major on a particular one. In his book Frames of Mind – The Theory of Multiple Intelligences we read that one person may be more disposed to mathematics than to the arts, or vice versa, and that’s okay because rather than seeing these leanings as abilities, Gardner says they’re intelligences, which sort of takes the sting out if you’re really lousy at one and excellent at another. For example some people are just great at sport but are only average in the classroom. Gardner says these folk have a high kinaesthetic intelligence. They have an instinct about where and when to place their body in space. Someone with musical intelligence would find plucking away at a guitar in perfect tune and rhythm as easy as falling off a log.
This argument leads us to explore the value of creative pursuits for someone who just loves to add up or write books. Does this person need to paint in order to retain or gain good mental health? Or would this just lead to a lot of frustration and a sense of failure?
Interestingly there is a strong movement at the moment in psychology and counselling circles toward something called Art Therapy – which can be used alone or incorporated into the therapy plan. Art Therapy does not need it’s participants to have any creative leanings or talents at all – rather, it’s more about being able to locate on the outside of oneself what’s happening on the inside, using colour, symbols and a variety of materials. I use some art therapy tools in my own practice – a sand tray with figurines that can be placed in a way that tells the story of the participants inner world, art paper and crayons for free or directed expression, craft materials that when placed on the outside or inside of a shoebox or paper bag can help the participant to articulate the world of the self.
As well, Music Therapy and Dance Therapy are being taught in our universities. Both are expressive and powerful for those who need to work through trauma, those who have a physical disability, or just for small children in day-care, Dance Therapy incorporates and integrates mind and body, and Music Therapy uses musical expression such as singing and song writing to achieve treatment goals. Both are expressive therapies and their use is not limited to psychotherapy, but also are helpful for spiritual, physical and social issues.
Then of course there is just the idea of art, music or dance just for fun and relaxation. In our stressful world, fun and relaxation are elusive commodities. So regardless of if you’re good at it or not, if it leaves a smile on your face and you decide to go back for more, then it’s a successful exercise in my book. Whether you actually need it in order to live a healthy and satisfying life, is really up to you! But you might have lots of fun finding out!
Page last updated Mar 27, 2013