This semester has, more likely than not, been exceptionally challenging for many students. First-year students who would normally be relishing in their first taste of freedom away from home now find themselves stuck in their residence halls, deprived of a normal college experience. Seniors are looking at a bleak final year in college, on a campus devoid of the activities they have long become accustomed to and love.
However, no matter what year you are in, these are trying times. Abiding by strict regulations and staring down increasing numbers of coronavirus cases are difficult things for anyone to deal with. Additionally, Fairfield University is now entering the midterm season, at which point many students’ workloads begin to drastically increase.
With coronavirus restrictions in place, and midterms just around the corner, many students may find themselves swamped in not just exams, but also in an endless spiral of negative thoughts. During this time, it is especially important for students to show themselves some extra compassion and prioritize their own mental health. One particularly creative way to enhance mental health is through art therapy.
Art therapy, which was first introduced in the mid-twentieth century, is a practice that combines the disciplines of art and psychology to help people heal. It incorporates clinical, psychological, spiritual and artistic techniques into its practice to help clients improve social skills and self-esteem, explore their thoughts and work through unprocessed feelings.
Individuals wishing to try art therapy have a vast trove of creative activities from which to choose. Participants can paint, draw, sculpt, make pottery and work with textiles, among various other forms of art. They do not need any prior experience with art to benefit from this innovative healing experience.
Margaret Naumberg, the primary founder of the American art therapy movement, is considered the “mother” of this unique practice. Naumberg, who believed that children who were able to express themselves creatively would exhibit signs of overall healthier development, likened the creative process to unraveling repressed thoughts and emotions.
Hanna Kwiatkowska, a talented Polish-born sculptor and another major contributor to art therapy, initially hoped her use of the practice would help individuals facing intellectual challenges. However, she came to realize that art therapy also had undeniable benefits to mental health. More specifically, she found that the drawing process was extremely therapeutic.
So how, you may ask, does art therapy fit into the busy life of an overstressed college student? Well, before you scoff at the idea of setting even one second aside to drop your midterm study guides in favor of a paintbrush, consider the many benefits this creative form of therapy has to offer.
For one, art therapy can help with depression. While stuck in dorms and unable to enjoy normal freedom, many college students may be prone to depression. Setting time aside to create something may add some positivity to college students’ lives and even out the chemical imbalances in the brain that cause depression.
Art therapy can also sharpen communication skills. People who have a hard time expressing difficult thoughts or remembering painful experiences may find it easier to do so through art instead of words. Improved communication skills can help a person who is struggling to reach out to others for support.
Art is also a great way to de-stress. Many college students turn to alcohol to reduce stress, which can take a physical and emotional toll if done in excess. Art therapy serves as a stress outlet that can actually improve health!
Another benefit is improved problem-solving skills. A young person’s life can rapidly change, especially during the current pandemic. Honing their problem-solving skills can help young people take action and find solutions to problems faced during difficult times.
Last, but not least, art therapy provides a wonderful distraction. It can be so easy to get consumed by negative thoughts. Art therapy may prove a welcome distraction that can help us see the positives that are already present in our lives!