"Getting creative really does boost your mood" declared a recent headline based on the BBC Arts Great British Creativity Test, suggesting that creativity can help people avoid stress and improve self-development. Some mental health professionals promote creativity in their work with clients and others report benefits from using it personally.
Megan Dozler, MS, MT-BC with Core3 Harmony & Wellness Services, LLC is a board-certified music therapist and uses creative arts to help clients improve not only their mood but the quality of life. Dozler says, “When one is battling mental, physical and emotional stress, the body craves for a way to connect, respond and release stress and tension. Sometimes other sources/mediums are necessary to boost and uplift one's mood naturally. Depending on what one is experiencing, the body is pretty amazing at healing and restoring itself. As a music therapist, I use the medium of music to help others tap into this experience. It transforms the emotions and chemical make up of our bodies. More and more research is being provided showing the benefits of the arts-dance, music, art, and drama that is being used along with other traditional therapies with much success.
Sam Konstan, a musician, with MinnesotaMIXING also sees a benefit of music for himself and his clients. While Kondstan acknowledges creativity through music isn't a cure for depression or anxiety, he notes “it can raise moods and bring people together. Short-term, it often can lift people out of a bad mood. Long-term, creativity can help with many important things such as self-care and other healthy habits.”
Julie Barthels, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker advocates for using creativity as a way of getting outside oneself. “When we make this shift, it can remove us from the worries that weigh us down. For example, creating a story about someone else allows us to immerse ourselves in the experience of another person. Or creating an art piece causes us to focus on how color and form are coming together rather than the issues that trouble our mind and heart.”
Being creative helps people express emotions they are unable to verbalize. “In working with a client,” said Barthels, “ I may have them draw or write something within three minutes. This helps them to get out of their head and into their feelings. Then, we can discuss and process this together. This approach has been very powerful in a group I facilitate with people who struggle with anxiety.”
The creative process has additional benefits that are not visible. “The more you think creatively, the more connections are created between the neurons in your brain. This kind of neural activity has been shown to improve cognitive function in general,” noted Dr. Bryan Bruno, Medical Director at Mid City TMS. “With new connections being made in the brain and stress being relieved,” Andres Hernandez with Cope Notes, believes “creative acts of every kind can help improve mood drastically."
Christine Scott-Hudson, Clinical Art Therapist and Owner of Create Your Life Studio values creativity as a way to express feelings. “Creativity gives us the opportunity to externalize our interior world, which deepens our understanding and empathy towards ourselves, leading to self-compassion.” says Scott-Hudson. "Many of my psychotherapy clients find that using visual language helps to access, identify, process, and heal traumatic memories in a way that talk therapy alone might not reach.”
When we talk about creativity, Victor Shamas, Ph.D. a psychologist, emphasizes an important distinction between creating and being creative. “My research has shown that creative activities are most conducive to psychological and emotional well-being when your focus is on the process rather than the product. In other words, create for the pure joy of it without being concerned about the quality of your output. When the act of creating absorbs your attention completely and brings you fully into the experience of the present moment, then creativity has all the benefits associated with any form of meditation. As meditation research has shown, the more consistently you do a meditation practice, the greater and more stable the rewards. Take a few minutes every day to do something creative that is also enjoyable for you. For example, you could write, dance, draw, make music, or just let your imagination wander. Any of these activities have the power to alleviate stress and elevate mood.”
When Brian Shell left his engineering job to go after creative pursuits, a mentor told him: “The only truly happy people I know are creative on a daily basis.” After 25 years of chasing his dreams, he concurs with his quote. Shell sums up his view on creativity by saying, “There’s nothing a day of creativity can’t cure.”
Tina Arnoldi is a licensed professional counselor (LPC) in Charleston, SC, business consultant, and freelance writer. She is a reviewer for PsychCentral (you can find her work here) and has a public portfolio on Contently. You can learn more about her and connect at TinaArnoldi.com