here is a growing awareness in nursing homes
and long-term care facilities that art can be a
therapeutic tool to help people recover from
stroke and cognitive impairment disorders. So what
do stroke survivors get out of art therapy?
• Engagement and connection. While passive
activities, such as listening to music or watching
TV, often hypnotize people into lethargic inactivity,
art therapy is interactive. Patients are engaged
in an activity, one that promotes stroke recovery
disguised as leisure. Art therapy programs also
provide excellent opportunities for patients and
their families to connect.
• Recreation in a group setting. Art therapy
programs give a variety of people the opportunity
to come together and participate in a quality group
activity. Plus, a regular art program gives patients
something to look forward to.
• Enhanced physical and occupational
therapy. Stroke survivors who have trouble
communicating and who may be disoriented and
confused often respond well to art activities. The
benefit is particularly evident in stroke survivors
who have lost the use of a limb. Survivors who
are unable to perform daily living skills, such as
buttoning a shirt, walking or feeding themselves,
often see improvements.
• Convenience and creativity. You can create
art pretty much anywhere. And everyone can
participate, even if you’ve never painted before or
thought of yourself as creative. Art therapy programs
also lay the foundation for a creative outlet for
patients in respite care once they return home.
• A sense of accomplishment, and heightened
self-esteem. Creating art is an achievement. It
may be a painting on stretched canvas, a sculpture
made with clay or papier-mâché or a craft project.
During the holiday season, patients often enjoy
creating ornaments, holiday trees and garlands that
are hung throughout their facilities.
• Brain stimulation. In her book about the
neuropsychology of art, researcher Dahlia W.
Zaidel wrote that when a person is engaged in the
creative process, the part of the brain that controls
emotions is stimulated, promoting the formation
of new neurological pathways. In other words,
making art just feels good.
Because stroke can affect a person’s ability to
move certain body parts, I developed a process to help
survivors reclaim the use of an affected arm or hand.
I call it the “mimic technique.” The survivor holds a
paintbrush in both hands. I encourage using both hands
for every activity — especially while painting. This
stimulates both sides of the brain, and the dysfunctional
hand benefits from the movement of the functional
hand. After using this technique for a few weeks,
patients often have a working hand once again.
Art therapy has been used for decades as a
non-medical method to help people with stroke, cancer,
vascular dementia and a variety of other conditions. In
my experience, art makes everything better!
The Benefits of Art Therapy
By Elizabeth Cockey, M.A. T., Art Therapist
About the author...
Elizabeth Cockey is an art therapist
from Baltimore. Read her article,
“Therapy that Makes You Laugh,” in
our September/October 2005 issue.
strokeconnection for more from
Elizabeth on “Becoming an Artist:
How to Get Started.”