PsychBeat | All You Need To Know About Expressive Arts Therapy

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PsychBeat is a monthly column by Shruti Venkatesh which intends to look at innovative therapies that can be used to counter mental health issues.


Expressive Arts Therapy (EAT), a form of therapy which is relatively new in its formation but is rapidly gaining popularity, combines psychology and various arts (movement, drawing, painting, sculpting, music, writing, sound, and improvisation) to promote emotional growth and healing.

“Basic art, movement, dance, clay, toys, drama and other artistic modalities are carried out in a non-competitive and non-judgmental manner so that an individual is able to listen to the inner messages, feelings and emotions that are stored in the body and mind.”, says Bhaktiveda Dhaul, Founder of Pranaah and Expressive Arts Therapist. EAT facilitates change by using different art forms as therapeutic instruments. Journaling, storytelling, reading literature and poetry, and making life maps, videos, finger painting and memory books are other forms of EAT. It is important to understand that Expressive Arts Therapy focuses on self-discovery and emotional growth and not on perfecting the concerned art form.

Expressive Arts Therapy can be used on people from all age groups, individually as well as in groups. Children can benefit greatly from Expressive Arts Therapy. Namrata Jain, Psychologist, Wellness Coach and Expressive Arts Therapist, says “Often children don’t have the language skills to verbalize their problems. Expressive Arts Therapy taps into the right brain nodules where the language of images, ideas, and creative expression exist. EAT awakens a child’s imagination and creativity to help them discover who he/she is and how to engage his senses. EAT helps children know more of themselves which in turn helps them know others around them and at large becoming more humble, respectful and mature as adults.”

EAT also helps geriatric clients to stay involved and connected with their families. As Dhaul suggests, “Expressive art therapy can help the geriatric population by giving them a sense of belonging and inner peace as the activities are fun and stress releasing which improves mood and gets out the free inner child.” This form of therapy has been implemented in many countries now.

Some of the disorders which can use EAT as a treatment strategy includes Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), developmental disabilities, eating disorders, anxiety, depression, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and chronic medial illnesses. The approach is described as “integrative” when different art techniques are intentionally used in combination with traditional medicines to promote improved health.

Image credit: Unsplash

 

Much of the core of EAT is focused on the concept of self-exploration and creation. People have the opportunity to explore themselves differently through the use of art and this proves to be a catalyst for the therapeutic process. Simple tasks like painting and movement help people recapitulate their past and engage in catharsis and working together with your expressive arts therapist also helps in the faster resolution of conflicts.

Creativity plays a key role as well in EAT as it is assumed that any form of art and its creation arises from the emotional depth of a person. This allows for creativity to become an outlet for the expression of traumas, troubles and emotional as well as behavioral issues. The central idea is the process and journey of creation and not the final result which helps to gain clarity in communicating one’s inner feelings without verbal barriers. The results are not particularly left for interpretation from the therapist but instead clients are encouraged to find personal meanings in their creations, hence the focus on self-discovery and exploration.

Nirali Rajgor, an aspiring Expressive Arts therapist, student of Psychology and trained dancer for 10 years, explains, “Dance and other such art forms are extremely beneficial for both one’s physical and mental health. It teaches you how to be comfortable with your own body. As they are expressive forms, those who feel they lack verbal communication skills find it a beautiful way to express, to get their emotions out and show it to the world. This makes it very adaptable for therapeutic purposes. EAT is an evolving field where there is so much scope for improvement and research. I am very hopeful of its success and truly believe that EAT can lead to a renewed self-discovery in people.”

Like any other therapy, EAT too has its own limitations. Many people find it difficult to break out of their shells and engage in art forms like dance, music or poetry. Therapists experience a large amount of resistance from participants because they believe that they are not creative and have never been, hence, a therapy such as EAT may not benefit them. There is also a misconception that it is necessary to produce something artistic as a result of the sessions which makes clients hesitate opting for EAT. On the other hand, there are participants who may in fact have prior experience in certain art forms like painting which is inhibitory to the therapeutic process as the participant refuses to budge from their learned practices.

Although expressive modalities have gained increasing popularity and acceptance in the recent years, there is still plenty of research left to be done in terms of the different applications and types of groups it can be applied to. However, mental health professionals have recognized the many qualitative benefits which EAT provides. This is reflected upon by Dhaul, who says, “Expressive Art Therapy helps in understanding what is important and what issues need to be addressed. Awareness is the first step to recovery and that is what the power of nonverbal activities carried out in EAT can bring up for a person.”

References:

1. Expressive Arts Therapy. (2017, July 27). Good Therapy.

2. Dunphy, K., Mullane, S., and Jacobsson, M. (2013), The effectiveness of expressive arts therapies: A review of the literature. Melbourne: PACFA.

3. Malchiodi, C. (2014, June 30). Creative Arts Therapy and Expressive Arts Therapy. Psychology Today.

4. Bhaktiveda Dhaul, Founder of Pranaah and Expressive Arts Therapist.

5. Namrata Jain, Psychologist, Wellness Coach and Expressive Arts Therapist. Jain has recently started a program called Small Steps… Big Leaps which focuses on children and imparting life skills.

Shruti Venkatesh is the National Lead (Mental Health) at One Future Collective.

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“Do I Look Good Enough in this Picture?” – Selfies, Social Media and Mental Health

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‘Selfitis’ is not a real disease, but the mental health aspects surrounding selfies are not to be taken lightly. 

Selfie, a word that made its way to become the word of the year in 2013, as described by the Oxford English Dictionary is defined as “a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and shared via social media” by the same. The obsession with self-portrait photographs which initially began as a trend among the youth quickly gained wider popularity among all age groups. However, a survey found that selfies make up 30% of the photos taken by people aged 18-24 years.

Much of its popularity was attributed to the ease and speed with which photos of oneself could now be taken without the need for mirrors or help from others. The sharp rise in selfie usage was approximately 17000% from 2012 to 2015, which lead to the discovery of the evidence of direct relationships between selfies and self-esteem, self-image, and even narcissism. This created a stir, giving rise to arguments against considering the obsession with selfies as a mental disorder which was aggravated by a hoax created by a parody APA website which stated that obsession with clicking selfies is confirmed to be a mental disorder called “Selfitis”.

It seemed to have taken much of this world by surprise to know that an act of clicking photos of oneself had become a global phenomenon but the sudden importance given to selfies has been supported by accidents, injuries and deaths that have occurred to individuals while in the act. Such recklessness caused by the act of taking selfies has only worsened the negative attention surrounding it. Due to a series of such events and discussions steered by its popularity, intensive research has been made on a variety of topics regarding selfies ranging from the use and gratification of posting them on social media to even calculating the different angles at which they are captured! Few reasons that people click selfies include boredom, to boost self-esteem, to enjoy the perks of social media or to grab others’ attention.

Some people even feel that posting selfies online helps them validate their existence, a reason that blends with the concept of low self-confidence as posting selfies online may end up augmenting their personal insecurities. Obsession with selfies also has biological evidence. Studies have shown an increase in dopamine levels while receiving feedback information from others and behaviors relating to selfie-taking like uploading content online has been strongly related to activities in the sympathetic nervous system. This enhances social communication which when lost eventually will lead to loneliness. Selfies and loneliness have been correlated multiple times with studies that point out to those participants who post more selfies while scoring low on intimacy measures. This directly contradicts the central idea of social media which was initially aimed at building rapport with each other and not decreasing intimacy in relationships.

The interplay between selfies and social media has been an interesting one, highlighting various human characteristics and behaviours. The definition of a selfie does not limit itself to the mere act of people creating a self-portrait but also the critical aspect of sharing the selfie on social media. Uploading selfies on social media provide the most ideal platform for people to portray themselves in a desired manner which will not heighten their social anxiety but will dampen their fear of embarrassment. Digital media, the future of communication, is now being extensively used for information as well as entertainment and hence it has a wide user base. Social media enables us to transmit selfies to virtual locations via hashtags but many argue that hashtags can act as constraints because we end up describing ourselves as metadata.

 

Photo by Bruno Gomiero on Unsplash

Different modes of social media like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr and the most popular selfie destinations – Snapchat and Instagram, help selfie uploaders have access to the opinions, judgments and appraisals of other individuals which in turn provide an opportunity to the uploaders to develop their self-image and identities. This idea correlates with the psychological concept of the “looking glass self” which suggests that we develop our sense of the self based on the perceptions of those we interact with. The frailty of this practice is that the youth especially, have begun to feel that their best, singled out selfie is the perfect representation of their online selves. Over a period of time, they become indifferent to the fact that they are actually looking at themselves while viewing their selfies and in this process, end up creating multiple versions of themselves. They also fall a prey to the temptation of manipulating their selfies by using “filters” that accentuate our desired features. They have the liberty to tweak their content to their liking so as to remain consistent with this self and end up creating a separate identity or identities that contradict with their real self in this process. This is the image with which they want to identify and strive to become eventually.

Immediate responses and reactions to selfies on social media lead people to crave more of others’ approval and this sort of validation strengthens our perceptions of our physical attractiveness. Social media also helps us to view selfies uploaded by others which may put us in a competitive position, trying to over-compare ourselves with others to be noticed, appreciated, and recognized. Such a process can lead to the feeling of immediate empowerment on behalf of the individual but this can become a never-ending habit of fishing for reassurance in the pressure to maintain a certain number of “likes” and comments on their selfies. But selfies on social media can also make us appreciate our sense of self and increase our self-esteem, encouraging a positive outlook and attitude. Fixation and an unhealthy obsession with social media are what will lead to the depreciation of our mental state regarding our self-image.

The most common people who fall a victim to this happen to be teenagers and young adults, who for the most part are millennials. A generation that is keen on exploring the technological revolution may not necessarily be tagged as self-centered in haste. In an attempt to be self-empowered, millennials explain their over-use of social media and selfies as a technique to portray themselves positively. The idea behind this may also be to shatter the illusions of an overly demanding society that is filled with expectations of idealistic body images and instead display their imperfections as a form of art through self-portraits. With their lives rooted in a digital world, it shouldn’t be surprising to witness millennials using the internet in different ways to manifest their thoughts and ideas, even if it is in the form of selfies. It may be understandable if millennials find common ground in such expression and are able to relate to one another or even understand and accept differences without friction. Millennials have always agreed upon the use of technology to be progressive and any form of communication to be ultimately productive.

This begs the final question – is an obsession with taking selfies classified as a mental disorder? The answer is – no. Despite the rumors in the past, “selfie addiction” is not a criterion listed in the DSM but it can be problematic if taking numerous selfies helps to feed pre-existing narcissistic tendencies in an individual and an obsession with clicking selfies can occur as a comorbidity to other mental disorders. There have been speculations regarding the future of selfie addictions being considered as a psychological disorder but as of today, it is fairly unlikely.

Shruti Venkatesh is the National Co-Lead (Mental Health) at One Future Collective.

References-

Charoensukmongkol, P. (2016). Exploring personal characteristics associated with selfie-liking.Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace, 10(2), article 7.

Diefenbach, S., & Christoforakos, L. (2017). The Selfie Paradox: Nobody Seems to Like Them Yet Everyone Has Reasons to Take Them. An Exploration of Psychological Functions of Selfies in Self-Presentation.Frontiers in Psychology,8, 7.

Hughes, L. (2018, April 04). For People With Social Anxiety, The Internet Is A Blessing And A Curse. Huffpost.

Jarrett, C. (2017, November 17). Millennials are narcissistic? The evidence is not so simple. Future.

Khanna, A., & Sharma, M. K. (2017). Selfie use: The implications for psychopathology expression of body dysmorphic disorder.Industrial Psychiatry Journal,26(1), 106–109.

Saroshe, Satish. (2016). Assessment of Selfie Syndrome among the Professional Students of a Cosmopolitan City of Central India: A Cross-sectional Study. International Journal of Preventive and Public Health Sciences (IJPPHS). 2. 1-4. 10.17354/ijpphs/2016/25.

Seiter, C. (2016, August 10). The Psychology of Social Media: Why We Like, Comment, and Share Online.Buffer Social.

Tatomirovic, T. (2018, March 30). Selfie: It is not a novelty in the human desire for (self-) expression. Thrive Global.

The Allure of the Selfie. (2014, October). Network Notebooks 08.

Whitbourne, S. (2016, August 27). Are Selfie-Takers Really Narcissists? Psychology Today.

 

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Why is Geriatric Mental Health a Less Discussed Issue?

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Debunking associated myths and beliefs.

Mental health issues in the elderly are more often than not treatable. Unfortunately, this is not the popular opinion. As the geriatric population is on the rise, their mental, as well as physical healthcare, needs significant attention. However, their healthcare is often viewed as a personal challenge of the families and caretakers.

If stigmatising mental health wasn’t enough, there is a huge amount of stereotyping directed towards ageing. Consequently, geriatric mental health is misunderstood, stigmatised, neglected and even treated improperly.

Many older adults are at the risk of developing mental disorders, neurological disorders or substance use problems in addition to age-related physiological issues. Over 20% of the adults aged 60 and more suffer from some mental or neurological disorder and 6.6% of all disability among people over 60 years is attributed to mental and neurological disorders. Anxiety disorders affect 3.8% of the older population, substance use problems affect almost 1% and around a quarter of deaths due to self-harm are among people aged 60 or above.

These issues are under-identified by healthcare professionals and are not taken seriously by families and patients due to the stigma, which prevents them from seeking immediate help.

Numerous myths have risen due to societal perceptions regarding geriatric mental health. This article aims to list and debunk the most common ones.

Myth 1: Dementia is a normal part of the ageing process

It is widely believed that as people age, senility sets in and this is considered normal. This myth has left a large number of elderly people undiagnosed because family members have not paid enough attention to the symptoms. Besides, loss of memory may not always translate to dementia and there might be other causal factors that should be looked into (such as sudden onset of depression or death of a family member). At times, even a stroke or vascular dementia could be the cause of lack of memory.

Myth 2: The risk of Alzheimer’s cannot be reduced

The risk of Alzheimer’s can, in fact, be reduced by keeping oneself physically and mentally active. There is a wide range of factors that contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s and the controllable ones can be modified. As we age, diabetes, hypertension, smoking, obesity etc. can take a massive toll on us and prevent the preservation of our cognitive skills. Keeping a steady track on one’s overall health can definitely make a difference.

Myth 3: Depression is more common among older adults

As a matter of fact, depression is much more common among young and middle-aged adults. It is a misconception that depression occurs as we age. However, it is true that depression can be much more severe among older adults and may worsen at the onset of dementia. It is also believed that depression cannot be treated in the elderly which is untrue. With timely and adequate treatment, symptoms of depression in older adults can be significantly reduced.

Myth 4: Substance Abuse is not common among the elderly

This is a popular myth as people have certain set preconceived notions regarding the elderly and substance use among that population. Substance abuse is a steadily growing problem. It is also a product of depression among older adults. This issue is not identified enough among them and hence does not receive the attention it needs. Alcoholism among the older population is widely prevalent. There are also a large number of hospitalisations due to the overdose of substance abuse as well as heart attacks caused by abuse.

Myth 5: Older adults are difficult to treat

This myth results due to the notion that older adults are adamant to stick to their guns and hence there is no use in trying to bring about a change. Most of the family members of the patient do not make sincere attempts to get help for their deteriorating mental health and blame it on the elderly’s rigidity. This is not the case as it has been seen that there can be a good level of flexibility and co-operation displayed by older adults.

Overall, these myths only have negative consequences. Multiple warning signs are either missed or overlooked in the process and the mental health of the patient only worsens. To top it all, they are often underdiagnosed. All these factors have, often, led to premature deaths among the elderly.

Advocates, policymakers, and healthcare professionals must realise that mental health issues in the geriatric population need to be carefully handled and considered. Evidence-based diagnostic tools should be utilised to ensure correct intervention. Families must be educated about the facts and briefed about the appropriate ways to deal with their relative’s mental health. A dynamic population that, contrary to popular belief, still has much to contribute — must receive the care and treatment they rightly deserve.

 

Feature Image Credit: Avgust Chech on Unsplash

 

Shruti Venkatesh is a Research Associate (Mental Health) at One Future Collective.

 

References:

Bogucki, O. (2017, September). Misconceptions About Depression in Older Adulthood. Scholars Strategy Network.

Elderly Mental Health: 5 Myths That Prevent Older Adults from Getting
Treatment. (2017, December 1). Desert Parkway.

Kennedy, G. J. (2003, February 11). Geriatrics — Myths and Perspectives,
Special Guest Editorial. Medscape.

Myths and Facts About Depression in the Elderly. (2016, February 29). Health.

A snapshot of today’s older adults and facts to help dispel myths about aging. (n.d.). American Psychological Association.

 

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