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How Expressive Arts Encourage and Promote the Power of Healing

September 30, 2020

As I was growing up I often assisted my aging grandmother and through that experience I somehow knew I would ultimately choose a career in science that would allow me to continue helping people. Still, I longed for a life that also incorporated the arts and always found artistic discipline to be a vehicle of self-expression, empowering us to reveal our hidden truths to ourselves and the world.

Creative Connections
While pursuing a career as a family nurse practitioner, I continued to create deeply personal art and I aspired to show others the power that art has in healing. During a nursing conference, I presented a series of sculptures depicting psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ theory on death and dying. I noticed a woman wandering the room and continually circling back to my display. When we had the opportunity to speak privately, she asked, “How did you know?” and shared that my sculptures spoke to her on a spiritual level. The woman further disclosed that she identified with each “face” that my sculptures were conveying — depression, anger, bargaining, and acceptance — and she divulged to me the tragic story of her husband’s death. For me, this moment exemplified the true power of expressive arts, and, in the connection that I shared with a complete stranger, the captivating effect of storytelling through something tangible.

An Education in Expressive Arts
In the 1990’s, there was limited research on art as a healing modality, so I began connecting with others in the field. In 2002, on the journey to my doctoral degree, I earned a certificate as an Expressive Arts Facilitator. Facilitating expressive art workshops for more than 18 years has taught me to pay attention to:

  • My impressions, thoughts, and images: An introspective instruction, art is often a metaphor in which the artist holds the key to its understanding.
  • My particular choice of art: Each modality of art holds a specific value and significance. If I work with poetry, I can express myself through imagery. If I work with fibers, I can work out intricacies through the story I am weaving. Whatever the method, the best part about expressive art is that there is no wrong way to tell your story.
  • Our collective everyday experience: This taught me to be present, to embrace life, and to engage with the people I encounter every day.
  • Healthcare facilities that incorporate the use of the arts: Innovative hospitals integrate rotating galleries on their walls and utilize the skills of visual artists, musicians, dancers, and storytellers to engage patients, staff, and the public.
  • Expressive arts research: Pay attention to institutions like Goodwin University that focus on curricula that incorporate the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework, promoting art and other activities to instruct, inspire, and heal. The last decade has brought about quality research on the benefits of art. We now know that in some cases, art can reduce pain and symptoms associated with different diseases. We also know that art can improve mood, reduce depression and anxiety, and increase the overall quality of life.

I have had the honor of standing before people who were no strangers to hardship. They were pupils and patients with purpose: cancer and domestic violence survivors, HIV patients, incarcerated individuals, and those facing homelessness, addiction, and physical and mental illness. And I watched as producing art had a profound impact on them all.

Unless we are pursuing art as a career, most of us stop “playing” with art before we reach adolescence. What a pleasant surprise to discover, as adults, how enjoyable and therapeutic self-expression can be! In a community setting, many find the arts a unifying activity that reveals commonalities unknown before participating in the art workshops. Through expressive art, people can capture the otherwise unspeakable, exposing bits and pieces of themselves at their choosing. When we engage in outward expression, we show our inner selves, as if to proudly say, “I am here, and this is me.”

Christina Nieves DNP, APRN, FNP-BC educates and encourages evidence-based expression as a means to mend. As a visual/performing artist and nurse, Christina appreciates that the nursing field allows students to bring their interests into the profession. Christina has worked in nursing education for more than 20 years as a director, program developer, and instructor in online, on-campus, and clinical capacities in undergraduate and graduate levels. An author, award recipient, judge, and peer-reviewer; Christina attests that Goodwin University’s dedicated nursing faculty and their commitment to students are exceptional, and she is honored to be the program director for Goodwin’s BSN, MSN, and Family Nurse Practitioner programs. Do you want to know more about art as a modality to heal? She’d love to hear from you.
 
Call today: 800.889.3282 or learn more at: www.goodwin.edu/fnp.

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