Using Art and Mindfulness for Pain Control

Using Art and Mindfulness for Pain Control

Using Art and Mindfulness for Pain Control

 

“Art gives a face to the ambiguity of chronic pain…it gives a visual expression to something that is often elusive.”

– Dr. Steve Feinberg, American Chronic Pain Association

 

It’s Not Easy Being In Pain

 

How many of us have pinched a finger in a door, have sprained or broken a limb, have woken up with a back ache or gone to bed with a searing migraine? In some form or another, we can relate! After all, we are human. For some of us, however, either due to injury or illness, the pain never goes away. Day in and day out, pain follows us all the time. It is no surprise then, that pain impacts all aspects of our lives: our sleep, our ability to work or go to school, and even our social connections and family relationships. Using art and mindfulness for pain control can be an extremely helpful tool for our journey. Before we get into that, let’s look at some of the information on chronic pain and illnesses.

 

The Statistics

 

Did you know that nearly 8 million people in Canada live with chronic pain (or pain that persists for than three months)?i This means that 1 in 5 people suffer from prolonged pain. 1 in 5 children and youth experience ongoing pain and 1 in 3 adults 65 and older experience chronic pain.ii This can include but is not limited to conditions such as endometriosis, cancer, neurological disorders, fibromyalgia, and Lupus.

Like other chronic illnesses, the chronic pain experience is also impacted by other factors such as poverty, mental health and substance use issues, diversity in gender, race, ethnicity, abilities, and concurrent medical conditions.iii

 

The Stigma

 
Some of us have been on the receiving end of a dirty glare when parking in a handicap space, using the elevator meant for those with physical disabilities, or for not offering your seat on a bus to another person with physical disabilities. If only they knew! Because chronic pain is largely invisible, those affected by it can often feel disbelieved, unheard, or dismissed. The stigma builds as individuals are labeled as a “problematic and frequent patients,” mainly because they seek medical treatment regularly. The huge range of symptoms that one can have related to chronic pain makes it difficult to reach a diagnosis and plan for treatment. What begins is a search for effective, compassionate and quality help.
 

Facing Challenges

 
For people living with chronic pain or illness, getting help is not always straightforward.
In my own pain experience and in my work with others with chronic conditions, this seems to be a reoccurring experience. Navigating through our medical system is complex and confusing at times. For patients with chronic pain it’s certainly not a walk in the park!

To be fair, medical professionals do their best to care for their chronic pain patients but struggle to work within a health care system that is not always well-equipped to manage the complex nature of pain. With nearly 900,000 British Columbians without a family doctoriv, the limited amount of time with each patient, and long wait times in walk-in clinics and emergency wards, medical professionals are not always able to spend the time they need or want to with their patients.

As a result of this, chronic pain sufferers are faced with considerable challenges when seeking help?

  1. The need to review their medical history for every new practitioner. With each new doctor or specialist, patients are asked to review their medical challenges and ‘pain history’ and it is exhausting! If there is no continuity of care or no regular doctor who can follow your progress and prescribe effective treatments, those with chronic pain can be left with feelings of despair and frustration.
  2. Self-advocacy is hard. With many chronic pain symptoms being invisible, those of us with chronic conditions need to be forthright, consistent, and clear when we articulate our symptoms, and defend our state of being and need for treatment. This not a skill that everyone has and it forces already vulnerable people to go outside of their comfort zone or find an advocate who can be their spokesperson.
  3. It is hard to get timely help. It can take many months and even years to see specialists, receive surgery, or gain access to public pain programs. In the meantime, patients are left to cope, to seek out alternative forms of treatments. Sometimes it’s hard to know where to look, and see if they are accessible (financially, geographically, or demographically).
  4. Building a support network is not always easy or within reach. With prolonged reliance on friends and family for practical, financial, physical, emotional, and spiritual support, those with chronic pain may be left with changed or strained relationships. Asking for help regularly or relying on others may not always be an option due to life circumstances. Feelings of loneliness and of being a burden often weigh heavily on those with prolonged pain.

 

How Do We Address These Issues and Improve Quality of Life?

 
How many times have you heard, “You’re going to have to learn how to live with your pain?” We groan, yes, but it’s true. There is no magic wand, so how do we do this? The chronic pain experience is riddled with complexities; because it has both physiological and psychological components, taking a holistic approach in tackling chronic pain is the most effective treatment plan in retraining our body and brain. For a good discussion of the importance of a multi-disciplinary approach to pain management, check out this video.

When used together, interventions such as pain medication, surgical procedures, counselling, body work (occupational therapy, physiotherapy, massage therapy, exercise, acupuncture), and the arts (visual, performance, music, dance, literary), can reboot our nervous system, teach us productive skills to manage symptoms, and help us to connect with ourselves and others and have a better quality of life amidst our pain experiences.
 

The Role of Art and Mindfulness For Pain Control

 
Using the Arts and mindfulness for its health benefits is widely becoming a critical component of healthcare to positively enhance, impact, healv and strengthen overall health and well-being.vi Research shows that mindfulness, or the act of paying full attention to the present moment without judgement,vii is a very effective practice to provide relief for both physical and psychological symptoms of chronic pain. Jon Kabat-Zinn, leading researcher of MBSR (mindfulness-based stress reduction) advocates that mindfulness can alleviate symptoms of pain, reduce stress in the body, alter our negative thought distortions to more positive ones, create emotional balance, and enhance overall health.viii

It’s no surprise then, that combining the art making process with mindfulness can be an effective way to tackle pain management. The very act of creativity and expression can promote body awareness,ix be an effective practice for rehabilitation and lead to significant life changes. It also offers a tangible and fun way to learn mindfulness skills, and encourage self-compassionate creativity.
 

What types of art activities can we do to learn mindfulness?

 
There are a wide variety of artistic activities that can help us learn to be mindful. Here are a few ideas:

  • Activities such as drawing, paper marbling or knitting can provide temporary respite or healthy distraction from physical symptoms of pain,xi xii and allow chronic pain sufferers to lose themselves in the moment or artistic process.xii xiii
  • Reflective journaling and guided meditation connects both the physical body and the psychological mind, using the art making process to encourage positive self-care, and experimentation and risk-taking, two essential qualities of the art-making process.xiv
  • Creating a self-portrait or vision board is a way to explore understandings of self, improve self-confidence,xv process suffering or significant life changes, and provide a visual representation of the life you want to have moving forward.
  • Making art with others in a supportive environment can help us feel connected and understood by talking to others about pain experiences,xvi building companionship, and having a sense of belonging, and decreasing social isolation and loneliness.
  • Selecting from a range of colours, shapes or images in an art activity encourages experimentation,xvii affirms a sense of control over surroundings and the decision-making process, and builds upon and improves cognitive functions (memory processing and problem solving).xviii

 
Using art and mindfulness for pain control, along with healthy changes to our diet, sleep, and exercise regimes and with attentiveness to empathy and creativity can help lower stress levels, give our nervous system a rest, and helps to promote self-care habits. By using a variety of creative processes, health difficulties can be better expressed, understood, accepted, and help us build our resilience. xix

I hope this article has given you a taste of the benefits of using art and mindfulness for pain control. If you want to try something fun, meet others who understand and support you, and learn how to manage symptoms through the process of creating, join us in our Pain in the Arts class, where we will learn how to make art with a mindfulness lens.

If you want to learn more about our Arts in Health Program at Alongside You, please visit our page on Arts in Health.
 
 


i. Canadian Pain Task Force Report. 2021 Accessed July 13th, 2022. Link
ii. Canadian Pain Task Force Report. 2021 Accessed July 13th, 2022. Link
iii. Canadian Pain Task Force Report. 2021 Accessed July 13th, 2022. Link
iv. Xu, Xiao “Nearly 900,000 British Columbians don’t have a family doctor, leaving walk-in clinics and ERs swamped.” Globe and Mail. April 29 2022. Accessed July 13th. Link
v. Fancourt, Dr. Daisy; Warren, Katey and Augusterson, Henry. “Evidence summary for policy: The role of arts in improving health and wellbeing.” Report to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport. April 2020. Accessed July 5th, 2022.
Link
vi. Link
viii. Gardner-Nix, Dr. Jackie and Lucie Costin-Hall. The Mindfulness Solution to Pain. New Harbinger Publicaitons, Inc. 2009: vii.
ix. Callahan, Margaret Jones. Mindfulness Based Art: The Sparks Guide for Educators and Counselors. Friesen Press. 2016.
x. Ann Behav Med. Eds. Mindfulness Meditation for Chronic Pain: Systematic Review and Meta-analysis.2017 Apr;51(2):199-213.Link
xi. Kabat-Zinn, J., Lipworth, L. & Burney, R. J The clinical use of mindfulness meditation for the self-regulation of chronic pain. Behav Med (1985) 8: 163.
xii. Dr. Daniel Potts. How art therapy enhances the life for Dementia Patients. 2014. Accessed September 15th, 2016. Link
xiii. “The Art of Pain Management.” American Chronic Pain Association: Link
xiv. McNiff, Shaun. Chapter 2: The Role of Witnessing and Immersion in the Moment of Arts Therapy Experience. P. 41. In In Mindfulness and the Arts Therapies: Theory and Practice. Laury Rappaport ed. Jessica Kingsley Publishers. 2014: 38-50.
xv. McNiff, Shaun. Chapter 2: The Role of Witnessing and Immersion in the Moment of Arts Therapy Experience. P. 40. In In Mindfulness and the Arts Therapies: Theory and Practice. Laury Rappaport ed. Jessica Kingsley Publishers. 2014: 38-50.
xvi. Monti, Daniel W., Caroline Peterson, et al. A Randomized, Controlled Trial of Mindfulness-based Art Therapy (MBAT) for Women with Cancer. Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia, PA, Psycho-Oncology 15:363–373 (2006)
xvii. McNiff, Shaun. Chapter 2: The Role of Witnessing and Immersion in the Moment of Arts Therapy Experience. P. 41. In In Mindfulness and the Arts Therapies: Theory and Practice. Laury Rappaport ed. Jessica Kingsley Publishers. 2014: 38-50.
xviii. Quintana Hernández DJ et all. The effects of a neuropsychology program based on mindfulness on Alzheimer’s disease: randomized double-blind clinical study. Revista Espanola de Geriatria y Gerontologia [2014, 49(4):165-172]
xix. McNiff, Shaun. Chapter 2: The Role of Witnessing and Immersion in the Moment of Arts Therapy Experience. P. 40. In In Mindfulness and the Arts Therapies: Theory and Practice. Laury Rappaport ed. Jessica Kingsley Publishers. 2014: 38-50.
Arts In Health – Why We Should Be Using Art In Healthcare

Arts In Health – Why We Should Be Using Art In Healthcare

What is Arts in Health?

 

The idea that The Arts have a role in the health of individuals and communities has a long history in cultures around the world.i Arts in Health (also known as Arts in Medicine or Art in Healthcare) incorporates The Arts (visual, performing, literary, music, and dance) to support and enhance the continuum of care and plays a critical role in the overall health and well-being of people seeking help for various conditions.

This growing field of research and inquiry is developing world-wide, especially in The United Kingdom, Australia, the United States, and across Europe.ii Increasingly, medical professionals are ‘socially prescribing’ non-medical, community-based activities and services that provide patients and practitioners greater health options when faced with complex medical and social problems.iii Though not as developed as in other countries, there are various health initiatives that incorporate The Arts with diverse creative holistic approaches to health across Canada.iv

This multi-disciplinary approach to health is becoming recognized both as an effective and creative way to positively impact health outcomes in both inpatient and outpatient healthcare and community settings, and boost mental, emotional, social, physical and brain health.

Specifically, participating in the art-making process:

 

  • Reduces stress, anxiety and depressionv
  • Improves self-confidence,vi self-awareness and empowermentvii
  • Encourages positive self-care skills
  • Provides a supportive setting to socialize, decreasing loneliness and social isolation
  • Is an effective preventative tool to manage symptoms of chronic pain and illness, and diseases such as Dementia, or Alzheimer’s disease
  • Improves and maintains neuro-spatial functions, memory processing and problem solving as we ageviii
  • Fosters emotional resilience, confidence, and personal growth
  • Is a healthy outlet and distraction tool to heal from physical, emotional, and psychological issues

To learn more, check out this infographic based on the research of Alain De Bolton and John Armstrong “Art As Therapy.”

 

Where does Arts in Health take place and what does it actually look like?

 
If you have ever been to a museum, a hospital, or community-based care home, you have most likely come across both art work and programs that fit under the umbrella of Arts in Health.

Museums and art galleries are accessible places where art can be viewed, questioned, created and bought. Artists and craftspeople are culture makers; they often play a huge role in cultural education and wellness. They are catalysts and bring people together through exhibitions, celebrations, ceremonial performances, and demonstrations. Artists can also showcase their work and sell their handcrafted art pieces.

Art work or painted murals are displayed in hospitals in hallways, waiting rooms, intensives care units, palliative and hospice wards, treatment and operating rooms and children’s wards. Outdoor art installations are also found on hospital grounds, music is played in high stress areas to benefit the patients and health-care staff, art activities are used at bedsides or during treatment (chemotherapy, radiation, and dialysis).

Community-based organizations such as rehabilitation and addiction centres, women’s shelters, day programs for people with diverse abilities, and immigrant services are just a few examples of where recreational forms of art-making are used to strengthen, to heal, and to communicate.
 

Who Benefits from Arts in Health Programs?

 
Along with other therapeutic interventions such as counselling, neurofeedback, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), occupational therapy and physiotherapy, The Arts allows us to discover, explore, practice, connect not only with others, but with ourselves. More specifically:
 

  • Kids and Teens: Approximately 20% of Canadian youth are affected by a mental illness or disorder.ix Extracurricular activities such as art making can be especially beneficial for both teens and children because it provides a fun, non-threating, and inclusive setting where they can be introduced to new skills, learn coping strategies, shore up defenses and can develop deeper understandings of themselves and others.x
  • Socially Isolated Individuals: Approximately 1 in 5 Canadians say that are not satisfied with their number of friends.xi Loneliness is real. Making art with others can promote social satisfaction and allow individuals to connect with others with similar interests
  • Caregivers or other individuals with overwhelming stress and anxiety: Using The Arts is good place to begin when coping with the stresses of everyday life. Picking up a paint brush or writing in a journal can be small but positive self-care steps to improve everyday life
  • Individuals with diverse needs, abilities, and diagnoses: People with diverse physical, intellectual, developmental, and emotional needs thrive when art activities are tailored to suit their individual interests and needs. Those with chronic pain or illnesses also benefit from the art making experience which helps in pain management
  • Individuals who just want to have fun! Making art in a beautiful space with a variety of different art, alongside others can really boost our mood. We can also receive individualized and collective support and guidance while working on creative projects
  •  

    Who is considered an Arts in Health practitioner?

     
    Arts in Health practitioners are composed of a variety of individuals: professionally trained artists, artists-in-residence, expressive arts practitioners (who use multiple forms of art), arts or health educators, art consultants, community-based support staff, other health-care professionals, recreational instructors in hospital or community programs, or other creative individuals who incorporate art in health disciplines.xii

    These practitioners provide patients, family members, and caregivers with opportunities for creative engagement in a variety of ways. Many artists are involved in fundraising efforts for health-related causes. From auction items, art commissions, internet sales, art shows, and community events, artists are uniquely woven into the commercial market, bridging artistic development to benefit healthcare initiatives. It is common for artists to work as educators inside schools or workplaces. They lead students, teachers, businesses and organizations in creating collaborative art pieces, and provide training and professional development on how to practice self-care and how to infuse wellness in their classroom or organization.

    Artists have always played a pivotal role in places of religious expression and places of worship, such as churches, mosques, temples and more. They help bridge creative expression (music, building architecture, prayers) with spiritual health and healing.

    Musicians, performance artists, dancers, visual and literary artists play a huge part in improving our collective quality of life, especially during challenging times. Throughout the pandemic, we have seen how The Arts have brought us together and helped us cope anxiety and stress.
     

    So why does Arts in Health matter?

     
    Increasingly, the health-care system is going thought a shift, one that focuses on treating the whole person (body/mind/soul), not just the condition. Medical programs are integrating the arts into training, teaching and research because of the overwhelming evidence-based research that shows a direct correlation between healing and the arts.xiii

    This infographic provides a great visual on the importance of community-based Arts in Health.

    Both on an Individual and community level, at Alongside You, we seek to reduce the burdens of illness, to foster connection, provide hope and build resilience so we can help others live vibrant and thriving lives. It is for these reasons that we offer Arts in Health programs at Alongside You. If you have any questions about how our Arts in Health programs can help you on your journey, please reach out to me and I’ll be glad to hear your experience and talk about how including arts in your health plan could help!
     

    “An active engagement with the arts – whether as a participant, or as a viewer – is one effective way for individuals and communities to address issues of public health. We recognize that prevention and health promotion are important in avoiding the costs and issues associated with acute care later on, down the road. This is where the arts are effective in health promotion.”

    – Sarah Chilvers, (former Program Director for Health and Social Development for the Vancouver Foundation)


    i. Clift, Stephen, and Paul M. Camic (eds). Oxford Textbook of Creative Arts, Health, and Wellbeing: International Perspectives on Practice, Policy and Research. Oxford University Press. 2016. Page 3.

    ii. Clift, Stephen, and Paul M. Camic (eds). Oxford Textbook of Creative Arts, Health, and Wellbeing: International Perspectives on Practice, Policy and Research. Oxford University Press. 2016. Page 4.

    iii. Wouldn’t it be great to have this in Canada?

    iv. To name a few: Dalhousie University’s Medical Humanities Program called Heals, that combines the arts and humanities with healthcare; The University of Prince Edward Island’s Advancing Interdisciplinary Research in Singing (AIRS) Research Environment that connects researchers across discipline with singing and well-being; McGill University’s leading researcher in neurosciences, Daniel Levitin’s work on the impact of music and the brain; Arts Health Network is hub that links research in arts and health knowledge across Canada; In Manitoba, University of Victoria’s Health Initiative (UHI) aims to enhance health research, healthy aging, indigenous health, and mental health.

    v. Repar, Patricia Ann DMA; Patton, Douglas Med. Stress Reduction for Nurses Through Arts-in-Medicine at the University of New Mexico Hospitals. The Departments of Music and Internal Medicine.

    Holistic Nursing Practice: July 2007 – Volume 21 – Issue 4 – p 182-186. University of New Mexico. Accessed July 14th, 2022. https://journals.lww.com/hnpjournal/Abstract/2007/07000/Stress_Reduction_for_Nurses_Through.4.aspx

    vi. McNiff, Shaun. Chapter 2: The Role of Witnessing and Immersion in the Moment of Arts Therapy Experience. P. 40. In In Mindfulness and the Arts Therapies: Theory and Practice. Laury Rappaport ed. Jessica Kingsley Publishers. 2014: 38-50.

    vii. McNiff, Shaun. Chapter 2: The Role of Witnessing and Immersion in the Moment of Arts Therapy Experience. P. 41. In In Mindfulness and the Arts Therapies: Theory and Practice. Laury Rappaport ed. Jessica Kingsley Publishers. 2014: 38-50.

    viii. Zeki, Semir. Art and the Brain. Journal of Consciousness Studies 6(6-7). 1999. Accesses September 14th, 2020. Link

    ix. Canadian Mental Health Association Statistics: Mental Health and Mental Illness. Link

    x. Coholic, Diana. Arts Activities for Children and Young People in Need. (2010). P. 11.

    xi. Canadian Mental Health Association. Coping with Loneliness. Link

    xii. Dewey, Patricia, Bettes, Donna et.all. Arts, Health and Wellbeing in America. (2017). Accessed July 15th, 2022. Link

    xiii. This is evident with the growing recognition amongst Canadian physicians the establishment of medical schools such as Queens University, Memorial University of Newfoundland, the University of Alberta that bridge medical training with The Arts.

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