Art therapist Margaret Sands-Goldstein wants you to sing and dance. Or garden or cook or sew. She considers all of these actions creative expressions and, therefore, "art." She says they are all inherently healing and good for your overall health and happiness.
"The desire to create and express is a basic human need," she firmly believes. As an art therapist who teaches at Wayne State University in Detroit as well as at Metro Detroit's non-profit crises services agency Common Ground, Sands-Goldstein believes art of any kind is therapeutic and brings about self-awareness and personal growth. Furthermore, she says, "Spending time in creative endeavors is a positive alternative to negative coping skills like substance abuse, isolation, anger or self-harm."
As a mental health profession, art therapists use the creative process to help their clients cope with the stress and trauma from life-changing experiences, or even that of day to day living. The belief is that there is an inherent healing power in the creative process itself, and that art is a means of communicating and purging.
"It used to be that people made their own clothes, made and decorated their homes, made items for ritual and worship purposes," says Sands-Goldstein. "Now we hardly make our own meals and rarely consider making a birthday card or gift for someone." She believes we are doing a disservice to our mental health and, therefore, everyone could and should actively practice creating some form of art.
Fellow Common Ground Art Therapist Kristen Lambert insists that it doesn't matter if all you can draw is a stick figure; the outcome is all the same. "The process is more of the gift than the product here. We're not trying to make art for museums. We're trying to make something that's going to bring emotional growth and healing."
One poignant case Lambert experienced in her career was with a five-year-old boy who had recently lost his father to suicide. In art therapy sessions he would draw maze after maze. She and his other team of therapists came to realize that, symbolically, he was trying to figure out which way to go in the mazes but was literally terrified of making any kind of decision. He had been told that his dad had made the wrong decision, Lambert explains, by choosing death over life. So now this small boy was afraid that if he made the wrong decision he, too, might die.
Discoveries and breakthroughs, large and small, happen each session says Lambert because "you're figuring out who you are and where you belong." She firmly believes creating art of any kind is "a little piece of that puzzle." And couldn't we all use a little assistance in that difficult and never-ending process?
Sands-Goldstein encourages any type of consistent creative expression and says they are all equally beneficial to your general health and happiness. "Singing, playing an instrument, gardening, cooking, poetry, journaling, dancing, working on projects around the house, sewing..." The list goes on! In the end, just try expressing yourself in any 'ol way you're so inclined. And, remember, you're not making art for museums so stick figures are absolutely allowed.