Using the Arts to Recover Mental Health
by Gayle Bluebird
Mental Health Recovery Newsletter 1.3, Copyright: Mary Ellen Copeland, 2000  All Rights Reserved

Recovery has become an acceptable term in the mental health field.  Persons who previously had been given diagnoses which amounted to life-long sentences in psychiatric institutions now have a much brighter prediction for their futures.  Research has shown that many people can and do recover - some with a lot of effort, including the use of therapy, medication, hospitalization, etc.  Some recover with varying degrees of effort, still others recover spontaneously, to lead "normal" lives.

Many consumers are reporting the importance of art and creativity as integral components of their recovery.  Writing, music, painting, dance, and other arts are pleasurable activities but can also be a conduit for expression of those parts of the self which may not have been expressed in any other way.  Art can be used as a powerful healing tool to explore deep emotions - the sorrows, the struggles, and joys.  It has the ability to transform us by awakening parts of ourselves to recover and heal from earlier traumatic memories.  Through artwork, people can develop their own personal vocabularies for a fuller identity.

Persons who are creating with the arts have things in common to talk about; they can meet over a cup of coffee, critique each other's work, discuss reviews of professional artists and writers, and attend performances together.  The inspiration that can be derived from other people's performances and works can lead to the development of their own art. For example, performances by local musicians who are sensitive and expressive may serve as inspiration for their own song or poem.

Networking between artists has led to the formation of consumer arts organizations and programs, including creative arts drop-in centers.  These programs offer opportunities for artists' work to be showcased and sold, which provides some artists with extra income.  Such organizations attract artists working in a variety of media, including photography, painting, crafts, poetry and performance art.  Some cities have theater groups that meet regularly under the guidance of a professional teacher who, with a group of consumers, develop skits that are both informative and hilariously funny.  The material is designed for presentation to a wide audience to provoke thought and understanding and to reduce stigma.

Art and creativity can be used by anyone - that is what is so exciting.  It does not require being taught or require a therapist to help one be creative.  Some may want to be observers or dabble in a "fun" experience. Art for some may be writing a journal, creating a garden, or making a recipe.  Others may take photographs of something that is particularly inspiring to them, or draw cartoons.  Some artists may want to perfect their art - to "plumb the depths" so to speak - which takes practice and "doing."  There is a place for everyone.

Here are some of the ways to get started: * Have a private place and time to work. * Write or draw in a journal. * Set up a time to write each day. * Got to cafes and write and draw. * Get tickets to performances. * Set up a talent show or "open mike." * Use the library as a resource. * Read favorite authors. * Go to art exhibits. * Go to a disco to dance.  Go early. Sharing of your art, whether poem, painting or song, can be used to create a new understanding of a culture.  Art shows can be developed around a theme such as recovery, with each person's art being valued as an expression of their path.  What you have is a "tossed salad" or a "stew". The result is not a standard prescription but a sharing:  interpretations of personal beliefs and experiences creating a message of recovery.

Gayle Bluebird is coordinator of Altered States of the Arts, a national
network of artists, writers and performers, located in Florida  Planned for 2001 is a Mad Arts Festival.  Contact her at HYPERLINK.  Email:
Peter Sparrow has been writing poetry and music since the early '60s.  He is a trained performer, teaches woodwinds and repairs musical instruments in Georgia.  Peter can be reached at Email: