Finding Words Through ArtThe Effectiveness of Art Therapy with Mentally, Physically, and Emotionally Challenged Elders in Complex Care Home
For elders with challenged cognitive, emotional, and physical abilities, a nondemanding, nonverbal, spontaneous, creative, and safe space created by the art therapist can bring about meaningful experiences and a positive new attitude toward life. Art therapy is the primary focus of this qualitative research study. In this paper, I explore the effectiveness of group art therapy over 4 years of twice-weekly 3-hour sessions in a complex care home. To do this, I have introduced case studies of 10 residential elders. The participants, who were from various class backgrounds, were Caucasian and Asian persons with the exception of a First Nation female. Ranging in age from 53–99, all participants experienced a variety of physical and cognitive challenges.
In an effort to provide a meaningful experience to all the participants, the art as therapy approach was presented, and person-centered ideas were applied. Art therapy can benefit many aspects of an elder’s life. Elders are given the opportunity to express and share their inner experiences visually. They acquire healthy creative outlets for intense feelings and learn how to reduce stress. Elders have the opportunity to experiment with a variety of media. They develop self-awareness and express areas of concern. Individuals frequently develop talents and acknowledge their strengths. They become valued as part of a nonjudgmental, accepting community. Art therapy raises self-esteem through the successful completion of exercises and projects, mastery of materials, and interactions with peers. According to Bachalter (2011), among the additional benefits of art therapy, studies show that being engaged in creative endeavours may help elders heal quicker, better cope with illness, and aid in longevity.
After working with these groups of elders, it became clear, as Weiss (1984) described, that art therapy allows for self-understanding, acceptance, and love for self and others; enables elders to uncover the truth of their lives; and lets elders realize their full potential by creatively expressing their life experiences. Through my acceptance, sensitivity, and respect toward the elders’ expressions of thoughts, ideas, imaginations, memories, and feelings through art, they experience self-esteem, fullness in their life, acceptance, love, and a feeling of being cherished for who they already are. I propose that art therapy has the power to heal the older population, meet their needs, and help them find enjoyment in life.
2016: Master Thesis (English)
Advisor: Barbara Hielscher-Witte
Student: Heesu Jeon
Keywords: elders, complex care home, loneliness, boredom, helplessness, dementia, depression, aging, art therapy, and expressive arts therapy