How art can help in brain injury rehabilitation
While Doodle & Calm’s focus is on mindful colouring and kids wall art, we’re interested in anything that helps build mental resilience. Art most definitely falls into this category. Whether you’re browsing a gallery looking at masterpieces or elbow deep in yellow paint expressing your feelings of the day, art provides a fantastic outlet for emotions as Specialist Neuro Occupational Therapist (OT) Laura Slader explains.
One of the key areas of my intervention in the rehabilitation of brain injured people is to educate and assist the patient to optimise their brain function and know when to stop, rest and restore brain energy.
Art is a meaningful tool for some individuals to include in an OT treatment programme where there is a neurological impairment. It supports mindfulness and relaxation and helps people to engage with their senses like sight, touch and hearing.
Aiding the healing process – the calming effects of art
It is a powerful and calming tool and is especially beneficial for those with brain injury. They commonly experience a range of physical problems like the inability to think clearly and a struggle to focus, as well as fatigue. These are all distressing things for anyone of any age to feel, and are also difficult for the people caring for them.
Art is something that’s easy to access and beneficial in the healing process. The best bit is you don’t need to be especially talented to do it.
When absorbed in the process of painting, colouring, drawing or making something, a person can lose themselves. The act of ‘doing art’ engages the same part of the brain that helps focus the mind. The opportunity to be creative and produce an interesting visual piece provides immediate satisfaction and sense of achievement.
Art in the psychological therapy process
When conducted under the guidance of a trained professional it is known as art therapy. A licensed art therapist will blend the powerful benefits of psychotherapy and art, and ask questions to help patients work through their thoughts and feelings while creating their artwork in a safe setting.
Art therapy is based on the notion that self-expression through art and the artistic process has value and can benefit patients suffering a range of mental health issues, from addiction to anxiety.
The symptoms experienced by brain injury sufferers can also be alleviated through art therapy and for many children it can offer a new way of communication and self-expression that they may feel is more accessible.
Perhaps they don't have the vocabulary required to express themselves and describe their experiences verbally. Art can also put children at ease in the clinical setting in a way that’s more effective than other therapeutic techniques. There are some emotions that are too complex to explain with words, and this is where art provides an alternative communication.
By pouring any struggles onto the page or canvas and working through them with a professional, the burden can be lifted. Creating art helps people recognise and acknowledge feelings that have been in their subconscious. Recognising them and putting them into a piece of art starts the process of letting them go.
Helping patients towards their recovery goals
In brain injury rehabilitation, any activity that has a positive effect on a life that’s been turned upside down, is a good thing.
I adopt an objective and goal-setting approach to my OT programmes and practising art can be used as an activity in helping my patients achieve those goals. As well as providing a mindful pastime with a sense of calm and focus, it helps improve the physical and cognitive skills that are required in order to meet their objectives.
Decision making on colours; organising where to start and how to finish; physical hand and eye coordination and upper limb coordination with fine finger coordination can support goals in handwriting, maintaining concentration and attention to the task.
As patients create and keep creating, they also build self-esteem and gain a sense of accomplishment, which is important in their recovery process.
For more about Laura Slader’s work visit the LSOT website at www.neuro-occupational-therapy.co.uk