Drawing of a man that is mad, surrounded by smaller drawings of a thought bubble, lightning bolt, and question mark

Art Therapy and RA

I've been in therapy for a while now--probably since I was in high school. I've also tried multiple modalities of therapy; cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, group therapy, etc. Of course, with RA, there is also physical therapy that I have tried. But one that I have recently tried in conjunction with CBT and other forms of therapy is art therapy. It might sound like RA, and art therapy aren't connected, but I want to take some time to explore the relationship between the two that I have found.

My experience with art therapy

Mentally, art therapy has helped me express my complex feelings about all aspects of my life. I have the opportunity to put my feelings onto paper without writing them. In this visual representation, I get to translate my feelings into various lines, shapes, colors and swirls. And I get to choose the medium: digital, print, and journal.

How does it work?

The other important element is that my therapist specializes in art therapy. It's not that she tells me what to create; it's that she helps me interpret my art. The way this works is as follows: we talk about something that is bothering me in a session. Then, I will use that as a theme for creating art in whatever form, modality, artistic practice, etc., is necessary. Then, in the next session, I will show the art I created. She'll first ask me how I feel about the art, how it made me feel to create it, and how I felt after completing it.

To me, it has been a fascinating exploration of how multi-varied art creation can be in its intersection with my RA. I have also found how multifaceted my experience with RA is--something that I know consciously but is still fascinating to me as I continue exploring my life in all its fun, pain, ups, and downs.

How it's helped me

We have determined together that what the art sketches communicate varies based on how I'm feeling and what I'm doing. Often, it's about how RA makes me think. And those are complicated feelings. With swirls and different shades of blue, I capture the sadness and chaos that having a chronic illness inspires; with swirling and rollercoaster lines, I communicate the uncertainty about my future and feelings from RA.

The physical and mental benefits

These are just recent interpretations from sessions that I have had. They will always change with different circumstances. But I have noticed that while I mentally feel better from the art therapy, I believe there are physical benefits too. Moving my hands regularly helps alleviate some of the daily stiffness and joint pain. And importantly, talking about the pain I feel from RA helps me come to terms with it and make peace with my life as it is with RA. Part of my art allows me to explore this connection more, but I think art therapy has many benefits beyond just the mental. If you haven't tried it already, why not try it?

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