There are many ways to aid in the recovery from traumatic brain injury (TBI). It might surprise you of the creative ways to help this patient population. In this article, we hope to answer the question of How does art therapy aid in recovery from traumatic brain injury?
Traumatic brain injury and effects on quality of life
Traumatic brain injury can range from a concussion suffered from playing football to an open skull fracture with serve tissue damage because of car-related accidents or war-time violence. According to the Center for Disease Control, there were 2.53 million TBI-related emergency room visits in 2014. Mild TBI may temporarily hinder brain function, but more serious TBI-related injuries can lead to long-term cognitive, mental and behavioral problems.
When individuals experience loss or disability, feelings of desperation and despair may set in. Survivors of TBI often find it difficult to adjust to life after injury activities like combing hair, speaking or eating can be difficult and may need support. Re-learning basic life skills can become a challenge and lead to loss of self-esteem and depression.
Art as a form of therapy
Modern medicine may restore the physical body, but the emotional healing involved in TBI recovery is an ongoing journey. Art therapy for brain injury is a method used to help improve recovery from emotional problems and increase mental skills because of TBI. According to an article published by the U.S Department of Defense, patients suffering from TBI benefited from art therapy during recovery.
It’s unfortunate many people see art as an activity mainly for children. However, neurologists would disagree with you! They use art to relieve with migraines and sleep. Other doctors use it to speed up recovery and ease the pain from surgery and various medical conditions.
Let’s go a bit further into how art, as a form of therapy, can aid TBI recovery. It is a therapeutic approach designed to improve a person’s language cognitive capacities in a clinical setting. Parietal art, also known as cave paintings, is the first form of art therapy dating back more than 40,000 years. These paintings also represented forms of human communication to express religious beliefs and hunting strategies.
What makes art therapy unique? It can use the left and right hemispheres of our brains simultaneously. Functional MRI studies show patients use both brain’s parietal lobes when drawing. This region of the brain helps coordinate our sensory perception paired with mechanical execution of visual tasks.
Art therapy also helps the brain to develop neuroplasticity. For those unfamiliar with the term, it’s the brain’s capacity to form new connections or have other regions compensate for loss of function related to injury. The more you stimulate the brain, the more connections it makes to develop neuroplasticity adding in TBI recovery.
How art therapy aids in recovery from traumatic brain injury
Now, the whole idea of using art therapy lies with the patient’s ability to grieve the loss of the former life and embrace learning new ways to create new connections and meaning.
The story of Jevon gives us a glance into how patients can triumph over injury with the aid of art. Years ago, she was in a car crash leaving her with facial palsy, tremor and right-sided weakness. She was never a fan of art, but she found solace in painting and a new life because of painting.
1. Alleviates symptoms of depression
Fifty percent of TBI survivors have a bout with depression at some point during recovery. Recognizing and treating depression in TBI patients is important as having both diagnoses puts patient at risks for chemical dependency. Art therapy helps to reduce symptoms of depression as it gives people tools to cope with uncomfortable feelings.
2. Improves Communication
Being able to talk with your family, speak with your doctor or answer the phone are common tasks healthy people take for granted. TBI survivors may find these tasks difficult to perform because of loss in basic communication skills lost because of the injuries. Art therapy improves communication with self-expression and gives those affected outlets to communicate in unique and creative ways.
3. Improves self-esteem
Self-esteem is lacking in those recovering from TBI and needs restoration during this painful experience. Art therapy promotes decision-making in a non-threatening environment while creating art projects. This brings back autonomy in decision making further improving self-esteem.
With art, you can feel positive, regain basic life roles and tell your own story. It also provides you with a medium to talk to people close to you about your experience.