According to research, art therapy helps to reduce stress, decrease anxiety, and increase positive emotions. Art therapy can also be effective for family caregivers, as many caregivers experience emotional distress and are in need of social support and guidance. Caring for a loved one who is sick with chronic illness can be a large burden to our physical health and have a huge impact on our emotional well-being.
I met Sherena at a Conference for hospice staff almost four years ago. Sherena is the executive director of the Muscular dystrophy Association Singapore (MDAS) (Figure 1). At the conference, Sherena was one of the participants enjoying the art therapy workshops set up by the Art Therapists’ Association Singapore. Since then, she has invited me to work with the caregivers at MDAS for group art therapy sessions.
The muscular dystrophies (MD) are a group of genetic diseases characterized by a progressive weakness and degeneration of the skeletal or voluntary muscles which control movement. The muscles of the heart and some other involuntary muscles can also be affected in some forms of muscular dystrophy. Muscular dystrophies can be diagnosed in early childhood. Most caregivers are parents and grandparents of the sufferers. They often have to cope with the heavy demand of everyday tasks when caring for their loved ones, as well as the haunting fate that they may lose their loved ones due to the progressive nature of muscular dystrophies.
Art therapy helps people with emotional challenges through the use of creative visual art exercises to express your emotions. Art therapy may help you accept, resolve or express emotional conflicts and often unacknowledged concerns or fears about your family’s battle with muscular dystrophies. The art therapy programmes were one of the holistic programmes which MDAS provides for caregivers (Figure 2). The group sessions with care givers provide pro-social interaction to caregivers. It is a time when caregivers can share their emotional distress, meaning of life, and current health-related qualities of life with others. This interaction becomes an intervention which soothes and heals, reduces stress, anxiety and fear.
Caregivers work together with the art materials and do drawings, paintings, collages, mosaics or other kinds of artwork. It doesn’t matter whether they think they can draw or whether they think of themselves as artistic. The art therapists help caregivers by encouraging them to make art that expresses feelings they might not want to talk about. During the sessions, the caregivers discuss their thoughts and feelings while viewing the artwork. This helps them to discover emotions or concerns they didn’t even know they had (Figure 3). This sharing of emotions and concerns helps to reduce stress and anxiety, as individuals would be supported by other group members who often can provide an insight of their own experiences.