Thursday, January 28, 2010

Day 6: BWC - Art is Healing

Sometimes when I'm feeling down or needing to get through a stuck place, I do something creative, like write a song or a story or a poem or a quiz or something else that is artistic or creative in nature. It's not that every time I do something artistic it's because I'm down and out, but that I find the creative process to be very cathartic and actually that it's kind of, I guess, *essential* to my well-being. I remember in college that a good friend of mine would occasionally suggest that we and some other friends get together in one of our dorm rooms and paint with watercolors. It was so fun. I have to wonder why I don't do that anymore. Watercolors and oil pastels are very enjoyable to play around with. I've never been someone who could draw realistic subjects, but I've always enjoyed putting together doodley patterns. The thing is, I think for anyone who has been trained to do any one of the arts professionally, there is a struggle, because you develop such a fine ability to critique yourself and others, that it becomes hard to give yourself (and others, when you teach) the permission and the space to focus on the process instead of the product. The idea of focusing entirely on the process with no regard to the product at all is especially challenging, but incredibly rewarding.

While teaching voice lessons to community members in Rochester, NY many years ago, it occurred to me at some point that the lessons I was teaching served as a sort of therapy for some of my students. While some were focused on specific goals, like wanting to sing in a choir or band or audition for a musical production, there were many who just had the desire to sing without really knowing why, and who, I could see over the time we worked together, were making changes in their personal lives that showed healthy growth and development. I'm not trying to take credit for those changes, but I do believe that the voice lessons, that learning to sing, helped them to make positive changes in their lives. Because this was such a positive experience for me and I was able to develop teaching methods that were really useful with beginning adult students, I have always really enjoyed teaching that population in addition to teaching more traditional classical lessons.

It was suggested to me a number of years ago that my methods could also be useful as a type of therapy for adults with more serious emotional disturbances, like post traumatic stress disorder, for example. At the time, the idea seemed like a wonderful one, but in thinking about it more I realized I felt quite unqualified to work with populations in which I might be called on as anything resembling a therapist. I have certainly had students cry in their lessons from time to time over the years, but I have never been faced with someone with a really serious trauma to process. So, although this might be an excellent avenue to pursue with my work, I have resigned myself to the idea that I don't really feel qualified to do it. In recent months, it has come to my attention that there are a number of degree programs that might be very appropriate for broadening my skill base. I had always thought that music therapy was primarily a field that trained therapists for work with young children with developmental disabilities, but as it turns out, there are counseling degrees in which you can specialize in music therapy or expressive art therapies that might actually be a perfect complement to the skills and work I have already developed. I have also found a certificate program in sound healing, which may or may not be appropriate. I don't know if I want to pursue a license to counsel with music, but it is reassuring to me that such programs exist should I decide to move in that direction. In the meantime, I would like to encourage you, my friends, to enjoy the arts for all the ways in which they heal you.


Suze said...

I think the arts are incredibly healing, especially to a person who is participating (as opposed to just observing). It's one of the reasons I think the arts are completely undervalued in our culture! Learning to sing or paint or dance is not just about indulging a fantasy or taking up a hobby. It's about expressing yourself and contributing to society as a whole. And most people don't really acknowledge that (by which I mean, most people don't understand why it's important to pay teachers of the arts a fair wage, etc)

Scott said...

When I first started dating Kelly, I remember that there was this one really really no-good horrible very bad day, and I was just needing SOMEthing to let me release the pressure. Kelly, as she sometimes does, started rapid-firing suggestions, some ridiculous (go jump in the lake with clothes on), some impossible (get in the car and drive to France), and some intriguing. One of her suggestions was "make a collage."

Somehow, I did it, and just doing stupid things like cutting pictures out of the ad section of the newspaper and gluing them in funny positions... it just let the pressure out. I've always wished to have more moments like that, moments where all the pressure of life can be released by art.

I don't really know anything about what music therapists do, except for the lady who comes and visits my mom in the nursing home every week with her guitar, and sits on my mom's bed, singing all kinds of old songs that my mom knows from her childhood. It's a lovely gesture, but as you say, there are tons of different gestures music can make, and all of them can have positive effects on people. Nice post, Pam!