Over the past century it seems that every type of creative activity has grown into a type of therapy. The first four decades of the 20th century were particularly productive. While music therapy was first noted as early as 1789, its first professional organizations were founded between 1903 and 1926. Art therapy and dance/movement therapy were first promoted in the 1940s with professional organizations following 20 years later.
There are strong reasons why these creative endeavors became recognized as therapeutic. But one does not need to be, or see, a professional to gain from some therapeutic effects of the creative process. Integrating some creative activity into daily life can give many of the same benefits.
The creative process is often thought to be related to artistic activities, but in reality creativity can occur in any area. This idea has been presented by psychologist Howard Gardner who introduced the theory of multiple intelligences during the last quarter of the 20th century. He stated that every area of intellectual development is an opportunity for creativity. This includes linguistic, logical/mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal and naturalist.
The essence of creativity is not the modality within which one works, but the process of using the imagination to produce original ideas. It is this process of making new connection that appears to have the therapeutic effect, whether it is in music, words, movement or mathematics. Participating in creative activity stimulates the brain by making new neurological connections, which improves the mood and increases mental flexibility, improving problems solving skills.
Some of the benefits that have been noted in research are seen in all the areas, others are area specific. Some benefits are physical. Research suggests that music can improve respiration, lower blood pressure, improve cardiac output, reduce heart rate and relax muscle tension. Dance and movement can reduce the body’s stress response, enhance disease prevention and improve coordination and mobility. Creative activities can give a boost to the immune system.
Some effects are social, emotional or psychological. Research indicates that participating in visual art production can improve communication, improve concentration and help reduce feelings of isolation, as well as increase self-esteem, confidence and self-awareness. Therapeutic effect of dance and movement include improved mood management. Participating in the creative process in any form can help people focus, discover a sense of happiness and reduce burnout. The creative process nurtures emotional and social growth.
Trying a creativity activity may seem a bit intimidating to some people. This is likely because our society has created an artificial division between “artist” and “non-artist,” with the latter somehow being less gifted. Therefore, people don’t see themselves as creative and end up denying their own creativity. While it is true that there are people who decide to become professional artists, and there is a wide variety of talent, everyone has the capability of using their imagination in creative ways. And everyone can benefit from it with improved mental and physical health.
Those who need additional help to overcome mood disorders are encouraged to seek help. The Psychiatric Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP) mental health day program at MidMichigan Medical Center – Gratiot is available for those who need additional support. Those interested in more information about the PHP program may call (989) 466-3253. Those interested in more information on MidMichigan’s comprehensive behavioral health programs may visit www.midmichigan.org/mentalhealth.