Why Expressive Arts for Grief Work?

Someone recently asked me why expressive arts are so powerful.

I have experienced the power of expressive arts personally in my own personal journey of healing. I see others gaining freedom from this work. But it is good to have some data to support our observations.

MRI research has demonstrated that upon being traumatized the blood flow in the brain moves from the left side to right side of brain. The left side, of course, is the area that uses logic, is detail oriented, factual, where words and language reside and reality based. The blood flows to the right side where feeling and
imagination reside, where symbols and images predominate, spatial perception operates. This is the area that presents possibilities, can be impetuous and risk taking.

The body is saying that it needs more than just language to survive a traumatic event.

There is a story of counselors that worked with the children of the tsunami. These beautiful children were all, understandably, terrified of the ocean. All the counseling efforts did not seem to pierce the fears of the fishermen's children. Children whose future livelihood was dependent upon the sea. After months of counseling, the therapists brought in an art therapist to work with the children. That day, the children drew simple pictures of huge waves and people drowning and so forth. At the end of the day, the therapists were surprised that the children all held hands and ran into the ocean together.

There was something about getting away from the pure language center of the brain and into the right side that helped these children finally gain some sense of mastery over their stories and move into a new relationship with the sea.

Our grief work is about the story, and having the story begin to support us. This is the work that we are doing.