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Therapeutic art and brain injury - the creative brain

Contrary to popular belief, everyone has a creative brain…or at least has the potential to unlock and utilise it.

This can have transformative effects on rehabilitation after brain injury.

Keep reading to find out how!

Did you know the brain can rewire and re-organise itself?

One of the most important and fascinating aspects of brain injury rehabilitation is neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s ability to rewire and re-organise itself in response to environmental and structural change or damage.

This is an ongoing process throughout life and it does not end at a certain age as previously believed. It means that the brain is adaptive and can be altered in order to acquire new skills, store new memories and information, and help recover from an acquired brain injury faster.

It is important to note that every individual’s rehabilitation journey is different and depends on external factors that go beyond the concept of neuroplasticity.

Therapeutic art in brain injury rehabilitation

There are many ways you can improve neuroplasticity, one of which is creating art or engaging in any type of creative activity that encourages imagination, thought, and reflection.

Therapeutic art is a creative and self-expressive activity used for relaxation and improvement of a variety of mental, physical, and cognitive skills.

This is not to be confused with Art Therapy, which is a professional method of treatment or psychotherapy, which requires a qualified Art Therapist to be registered with a professional body.

Both approaches provide individuals with a new medium for communication and self-expression and has the power to alleviate difficult emotions and debilitating effects of stress and trauma.

7 ways art-making can help brain injury rehabilitation

  1. Enhances motor skills. The physical aspect of holding and moving the simplest of art materials such as a pencil or paintbrush can increase strength, control, and coordination of your hands and fingers. Your brain has the ability to translate this to other fine skills which might have been, such as writing or eating.

  2. Improves visual perception and attention. Depending on the art medium you use, art-making requires and therefore improves concentration levels and sharpens attention and focus on detail.

  3. Enables non-verbal communication. You may find yourself unable to speak or express yourself the way you would like following a brain injury. Sometimes, the feelings and emotions you experience are just too difficult to verbalise. Drawing, painting, or sculpting gives you the opportunity to communicate through images or 3D objects when words are hard to find.

  4. Relieves symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression. Living with a brain injury can be a traumatic experience for many and can cause long-lasting mental and emotional challenges. Engaging in a relaxing and creative activity allows you to move at your own pace, process the negative and reflect on the positive aspects of your life.

  5. Builds self-esteem and improves self-management. Being in a space where you are in control of what you create can increase your confidence and help you identify and manage your own boundaries and limitations.

  6. Fosters social interactions and skills. Sometimes these art-making sessions may take place in a group setting, which can help reinforce your social skills and enables to form new friendships. The dynamic that occurs between you and your art facilitator or art therapist can also encourage you to reflect on the relationships you have with family and friends.

  7. Finding hope. Sometimes you may find that all you need is a bit of hope that things will improve or reassurance that things are okay the way they are despite the difficulties of living with a brain injury. Teaching your brain new skills and bringing your imagination to life are an essential part of recovery. The process of art-making can give you hope that there is always something new to discover and create.

Therapeutic art workshop

On 11th May, we had the privilege of running a short presentation and workshop highlighting the benefits of art-making for people with brain injuries for Head Injury Information Day on behalf of Edinburgh Headway Group (EHG).

This was an opportunity for anyone attending to learn more about the therapeutic art sessions we run at EHG and to take part in one such session within a group.

Art materials were provided for people to make their own affirmations, discuss these with the group and finally to display them on the affirmation tree!

The workshop was very well received and we felt humbled by people’s individual stories of living with a brain injury.

Therapeutic art at Edinburgh Headway Group

We have seen, and continue to witness, these benefits of art-making with our own members at Edinburgh Headway Group, a small charity providing support for individuals who have been affected by brain injury in different ways.

You can see a small selection of the many artworks created by our members in the picture below.

Our members use a variety of different approaches to create their artworks, including recreating special memories of people and places or simply free-flowing expression.

According to the British Association of Art Therapists (BAAT):

“for many, painting or drawing helps rehabilitation after brain injury, and often ends up becoming a passion, and a way of life.”

There is no right or wrong way to make therapeutic art.

Its power lies in each person’s individuality which comes across in the images. No prior experience or art skills are needed to take part – all you need is as little as a pen and paper.

Why not give it a try and see for yourself?

Kate Bartanusz

Rehabilitation Assistant

Kate is a Rehabilitation Assistant at Edinburgh Headway Group (EHG), a registered Scottish charity. EHG provides day service rehabilitation for people with an acquired brain injury over the age of 18 living within Edinburgh and the Lothians and offers support for their families and carers. The primary aim is to improve their cognitive, physical, and emotional abilities to improve their quality of life and help them re-join their communities.



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