Creativity as therapy

Self-expression through art works wonders for those who can’t find words

The author is a local artist and registered art therapist in private practice. She maintains a website:

A while back, I watched the video of the young college student who recorded a litany of his sexual frustrations, and then proceeded to open fire on his peers with an assault weapon that he collected without a license. Then he offed himself.

Like most, I thought, “What’s this world coming to?” and “What if my child was in Santa Barbara; it could have been my kid!” and “What an ungrateful, spoiled ass!” He had a history of different labels to describe his behavior. I heard “high-functioning autistic,” meaning, in my experience, awkward people who rub others the wrong way.

This is a clinical catchphrase to describe a group of people who, for various reasons, have nobody to talk to. That’s an awful place to be. You feel like an idiot to begin with, then your peers reinforce your social difficulties by avoidance, ridicule or that look of disgust and the pitying eyes. Social isolation is solitary confinement with a happy face plastered on it.

The kid drove a fancy car and he’d probably been handed everything he wanted. A new word—“affluenza”—describes how privilege without responsibility and accountability creates kids without conscience. But this young man’s parents proved to be educated, compassionate and on top of it (so it seemed), since they took as many pre-emptive measures as they could to help their son.

Typical interventions for “socially awkward” individuals involve talk … talk to the counselor, talk to the parents, talk to the doctor, talk, talk, talk. Find someone the kid can “trust,” then the isolated youth should feel safe and loved, which should propel awkward folks toward acceptance, popularity and sex appeal.

Does anybody ask the question, “What if a person doesn’t know how to talk to someone?” Or how about, “What if, even if I could talk to a person, I have not the slightest idea how to express what I want to say.”

In my opinion, the young man needed the arts. Sometimes talking just doesn’t cut it. I can show you study after study proving that arts participation increases school attendance, keeps people from returning to jail, helps addicts stay sober, gives seniors meaning, and in general triggers a deeper happiness in most, from preschool to nursing homes, from Yale to jail.

People are getting burned out. We need to express ourselves in creative, nonverbal ways. Let’s make creativity and self-expression available to those who are tired of empty words but who still want help.