Creativity as a Healing Tool

CEO of Creative Change Conferences

Six weeks ago I started an Artist’s Way online course on Facebook. The course is 12 weeks long and 85 people signed up in anticipation of the author, Julia Cameron, coming to Palm Springs.

To quote what is happening to these participants after only six weeks, I would like to share the gist of the posts:

“These exercises are accelerating my growth, warp speed ahead.”

“Guessing it is the faithfulness to Morning Pages that causes a feeling of openness to possibilities.”

“I find myself writing now without paying attention to my usual excuses.”

Morning Pages are three handwritten pages every morning first thing. Participants write without the editor in their head being in charge; they write whatever is in their minds, a brain-drain, so to speak. Getting out all the gibberish helps participants move into the day with clarity. Morning Pages as one continues to do them can also be a place to explore dreams, plan futures, set goals…or not. The people I know who do them faithfully have had many transitions in their lives.

How does this all work? Creativity is the natural order of Life. Life is energy, pure creative energy. There is an underlying, in-dwelling creative force infusing all of life — including us.

If one really looks at it, we ourselves are creations and we were meant to continue creativity by being creative ourselves. 1

There is evidence that engagement with artistic activities, either as an observer of the creative efforts of others or as an initiator of one’s own creative efforts can enhance one’s moods, emotions and other psychological states, as well as have a salient impact on important physiological parameters 2

Chronic diseases are a nationwide burden, with cardiovascular disease being the leading cause of death during the past century, and the incidence of diabetes increasing to now affect more than 20 million Americans. What’s more, these diseases are associated with psychosocial difficulties, such as depression and chronic stress. 3.4

But engagement with creative activities has the potential to contribute toward reducing stress and depression and can serve as a vehicle for alleviating the burden of the chronic disease. In review of the research in the area of art and healing — and in this context, the word art means any expressive creative process — four primary therapies emerged: music engagement; visual art therapy; movement-based creative expression; and expressive writing. In these forms of expression, art therapy, arts modalities and creative processes are used during intentional interventions to foster health.5


Music is the most accessible and most researched medium of art and healing. Music therapy has been shown to decrease anxiety. Music can help change moods, depending on the music that is played for the participant. Those in a sad mood listening to happy music, as in laughing yoga, helped the participants feel lighter, happier. It has been also shown that music can calm neural activity in the brain.

The Cleveland Clinic (2006) reached the conclusion that nurses can teach patients how to use music to enhance the effect of analgesics and decrease pain, depression and disability, and promote feelings of power. A listening group and a non-listening control group were evaluated on several accepted pain-measurement scales, and it was found that the music groups felt they had more power and less pain or depression than the control group.

In a study of patients admitted to a coronary care unit with acute myocardial infarction, Dr. Guzetta found that relaxation and music therapy were effective in reducing stress6, which, in turn, lowered the heart rate, promoting a sense of wellbeing. And studies show that active music therapy may be effective in improving mood.

Visual Arts

In 1990, a group of University of Florida physicians and Shands nurses from Shands at the University of Florida reached out to Gainesville community artists and began a collaboration that would have a lasting impact on patient care. What began as an investigation of how art might help reduce the stress of the hospitalization has grown into a philosophy of care for an entire institution. This philosophy centers on the belief that art is an integral component to healing.

Art helps people express experiences that are too difficult to put into words, such as the diagnosis of cancer. Some patients receiving this diagnosis explore the meanings of past, present and future during art therapy, thereby integrating cancer into their life story and giving it meaning. People in treatment for drugs and alcohol can use art therapy in the same way, doing a timeline of their use and trauma using art and writing as a way to own their story and see changes that can occur in the future. By doing a painting or drawing of a bridge, exploring where they are on the bridge, what was behind them and where they are walking to on the other side. Also, the placement of themselves on the bridge will tell their counselors how patients relate to their own healing process.

Movement-Based Creative Expression

Through the movement of the mind and the body in a creative way, stress and anxiety can be relieved; other health benefits can be achieved as well. A unique study involving the use of theater investigated the benefits of a short-term intervention for adults ages 60 to 86 that targeted cognitive functioning and quality of life issues important for independent living. After four weeks of instruction, those given theater training exhibited significantly greater gains than members of the no-treatment control group on both cognitive and psychological wellbeing measures, specifically word and listening recall, problem solving, self-esteem and psychological wellbeing. 7

Tai Chi has been gaining popularity. This ancient meditative form is now shown to help with balance, thus reducing falls in older adults. There is vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening, that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost. ~Martha Graham


Expressive Writing

Imagination is more important than knowledge. ~Albert Einstein

We all relate to myths, stories and fairytales. Why is that? These stories tell our story; verbalizing our story may be difficult, but writing it down is often easier. Writing in longhand connects us to our heart, and our heart may be able to speak about our truth in ways our mouths cannot.

In the recent movie, The Help, the maids decide the only way to make a difference in the climate they were living in was to tell their stories to a writer who would write them down. Stories have existed since the beginning of time when our ancestors sat around the fire and told them. Stories get passed on from generation to generation. Studies have shown that, relative to control groups, those who wrote their story of a traumatic experience exhibited significant improvements. Writing increases health and wellness in varied ways.

Another form of expressive writing, poetry, has long played a role in the art of healing. Several authors have described the use of poetry to help people find their voices and gain access to the wisdom they already have but cannot express because they cannot find the words in ordinary language. Finding one’s voice through poetry can be a healing process because it opens up the opportunity for self-expression not otherwise felt through everyday words. 8

The poet lives and writes at the frontier between deep internal experience and the revelations of the outer world. There is no going back for the poet once this frontier has been reached: a new territory is visible and what has been said cannot be unsaid.

The discipline of poetry is in overhearing yourself say difficult truths from which it is impossible to retreat. ~David Whyte


Journaling is the only way one can gain some objective insight, since journaling is another way to access the unconscious self. Journal writing has been linked to creativity, spiritual awareness and expansion of the self. In two studies, journal writing helped participants identify and work through feelings, improve relationships and learn new things about themselves. 7

In an in-depth study conducted at Boston University, Grossman, et al. explored how 16 resilient male survivors of childhood sexual abuse made meaning from their abuse experiences. Three main types of meaning-making styles were identified in the narratives: meaning making though actions included helping others and using creative expression to describe and process the abuse, use of cognitive strategies and spirituality. 9


  1. Cameron, Julia The Artist’s Way, 1992
  2. Staricoff, R. Lopert, Integrating the arts into health care. The healing environment without and within. London, England: Royal College of physicians, 2003 63-80.

Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics 2008 Update, Dallas, Texas American Heart Association.

National Diabetes Fact Sheet 2005 Atlanta, Ga Centers for disease control 2005.

Camic, PM, Playing in the Mud psychology the arts and creative approaches to health care. J Health Psychol. 2008

  1. Guzetta, CE Effects of relaxation and music therapy on patients in a coronary unit with presumptive acute myocardial infraction Heart Lung, 1989


  1. Noice, H. A short -term intervention to enhance cognitive and affective functioning in older adults J. Aging Health 2004


  1. Macduff, D. West B Arts in health care: developing the use of Poetry within healthcare culture. Br J Nursing 2002


  1. Grossman, FK Sky H Journal writing a gale force wind: meaning making by male survivors of childhood sexual abuse. AM J. Orthopsychiatry 2006
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