Self-Healing with Art

By Julia Vasko 

As the rushing, burning sensations continued to course through my body – signals of an on-going panic attack—I contemplated the color pencils laid out before me.

I reached for the red and immediately started scribbling. My gestures were short and hard – aggressive. Red spikes emerged onto the page – a visual expression of the overwhelming sensations I was feeling in my body. 

This process continued for a few minutes; yet, the more I allowed myself to grip the pencil tightly and channel my anxiety onto the page, the more I started to experience relief. 

The short, terse gestures at the beginning of the practice began to soften – what were once sharp angles turned into curves. From brilliant red, I felt drawn towards blues and greens in spirals and waves. 

It felt as if I was intuitively expressing and providing exactly what was needed to bring me back to my center and a place of calm – and in just 20 minutes of creative expression, my panic receded. Not only did I feel more relaxed, but I felt more empowered too. 

Experiences such as this support the notion that within us lies a healing intelligence that art can help us access. 

Shaun McNiff in “Art as Medicine: Creating a Therapy of the Imagination” writes, 

Although therapists and other people involved in this process [of making art] make their contributions as guides and witnesses, the medicinal agent is art itself, which releases and contains psyche’s therapeutic forces…Art’s medicine trusts spontaneous expression and avoids prescriptions – bright colors to cure depression, heroic figures to conquer fear, good energies to overwhelm bad…Creative expression of the soul’s aberrations gives them the opportunity to affirm rather than threaten life.” 

When we allow ourselves to be led by our emotions through the creative process, we surrender to the dance of expression on the page – the ebbs and flows, the spikes and waves: the beauty that is life force energy. It provides a platform to journey into and with emotion to its natural release or transmutation. 

There is an innate intelligence in our bodies that desires to be in balance – to return to equilibrium. When we understand the energetic aspects of our experience, we can recognize that all energy wants is to be moved and expressed – but our minds and their limiting beliefs can create blocks to this natural occurrence. This suppression of emotion can cause dis-ease in the body, mind, and spirit, so establishing a regular practice for emotional expression is essential for our overall health.

Creative expression is a great and safe option because in this context, we don’t need to worry how our emotions will affect another, whether they are deemed ‘acceptable’, or even what they may ‘mean’. It can be a neutral space to hold and lean into diverse experiences – allowing for self-healing and pure expression.