expressive arts education in connecticut

How Expressive Arts Encourage and Promote the Power of Healing

How Expressive Arts Encourage and Promote the Power of Healing
Christina Nieves DNP, APRN, FNP-BC
Chief Nurse Administrator, Director BSN, MSN programs

Growing up, I had a special connection with my grandmother and often assisted her around my childhood home. As she aged, it felt natural for me to support her with daily living activities, medications, doctor’s appointments, and more. I quickly discovered that caregiving for her during my younger years would later lay the foundation for a future career that would allow me to continue helping others.

Although serving people is vital to my purpose, I insisted on pursuing a life that also incorporated my love for the arts. I always found artistic disciplines to be a means of deep self-expression, empowering us to unveil our hidden truths through a vast array of vulnerabilities and meaningful mediums.

Creative Connections

While pursuing a career as a family nurse practitioner, I continued to create deeply personal art, and I aspired to show others the power that art has in healing.

During a nursing conference, I presented a series of sculptures depicting psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ theory on death and dying. I noticed a woman wandering the room and continually circling back to my display. When we had the opportunity to speak privately, she asked, “How did you know?” and shared that my sculptures spoke to her on a spiritual level. The woman further disclosed that she identified with each “face” that my sculptures were conveying — depression, anger, bargaining, and acceptance — and she divulged to me the tragic story of her husband’s death. For me, this moment exemplified the true power of expressive arts, and, in the connection that I shared with a complete stranger, the captivating effect of storytelling through something tangible.

An Education in Expressive Arts

In the 1990’s, there was limited research on art as a healing modality, so I began connecting with others in the field. In 2002, on the journey to my doctoral degree, I earned a certificate as an Expressive Arts Facilitator.

Creative Conduits

Facilitating expressive art workshops for more than 18 years has taught me to pay attention to:

  • My impressions, thoughts, and images — An introspective instruction, art is often a metaphor, in which the artist holds the key to its understanding.
  • My particular choice of art — Each modality of art holds a specific value and significance. If I work with poetry, I can express myself through imagery. If I work with fibers, I can work out intricacies through the story I am weaving. Whatever the method, the best part about expressive art is that there is no wrong way to tell your story.
  • Our collective everyday experiences — This taught me to be present, to embrace life, and to engage with the people I encounter every day.
  • Healthcare facilities that incorporate the use of the arts — Innovative hospitals integrate rotating galleries on their walls and utilize the skills of visual artists, musicians, dancers, and storytellers to engage patients, staff, and the public.
  • Expressive arts research — Pay attention to institutions like Goodwin University that focus on curricula that incorporate the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework, promoting art and other activities to instruct, inspire, and heal. The last decade has brought about quality research on the benefits of art. We now know that in some cases, art can reduce pain and symptoms associated with different diseases. We also know that art can improve mood, reduce depression and anxiety, and increase the overall quality of life.

I have had the honor of standing before people who were no strangers to hardship. They were pupils and patients with purpose: cancer and domestic violence survivors, HIV patients, incarcerated individuals, and those facing homelessness, addiction, and physical and mental illness…

And I watched as producing art had a profound impact on them all.

Unless we are pursuing art as a career, most of us stop “playing” with art before we reach adolescence. What a pleasant surprise to discover, as adults, how enjoyable and therapeutic self-expression can be! In a community setting, many find the arts a unifying activity that reveals commonalities unknown before participating in the art workshops.

Expressive creativity allows people to create concrete representations of the things that speak to their soul. From hurt to happiness and beyond, art can enable reflection, empower transformative turning points, and provides hope and healing to those that need it most.

Do you want to know more about art as a modality to heal? She’d love to hear from you. Learn more at: www.goodwin.edu/fnp