Art therapy helps patients with schizophrenia, as well as many other mental illnesses, interpret emotions, feelings, and deal with the numerous side effects of medication. There are many different forms of art therapy such as writing, painting, drawing, or sculpting.
The White Swan Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides knowledge regarding mental health services, states that art therapy allows patients to focus on their creative pieces and reduce negative symptoms, which include affective flattening, alogia, or avolition. According to Gina Garippo, art therapy can reduce social and emotional withdrawal and allow for family and friends to understand schizophrenia better. While this method of therapy is usually under the guidance of a therapist, there are some artists that use their experiences with schizophrenia to explore their passion and pour these instances from the past into art as a way of coping.
Antonin Artaud was an artist that found therapy in his work. Born in Marseille, France in 1896, he worked as an actor, poet, and costume designer, mostly well-known for revolutionizing drama with his idea of “Theater of Cruelty.” The “Theater of Cruelty” focuses on “mysterious, primal expressions of sound, movement, and light” (Biography, 2014). This idea was later embraced to be a significant contribution to 20th-century theater. Antonin Artaud was one of few people with schizophrenia who used art as a gateway to exhibit his negative experiences. According to Louis Sass, not only did Artaud delve into the cathartic experience of art, but he also used his writings as a means to prevail over the difficulties of his symptoms of schizophrenia.
Around the age of five, Artaud found himself face to face with a near-death experience; he was diagnosed with meningitis. The repercussions of this life-threatening moment followed him for the remainder of his life. He was said to have suffered from neuralgia, a stabbing pain due to a damaged or irritated nerve, as well as neurasthenia. He was later diagnosed with schizophrenia and spent nine years of his life in various mental institutions. It was when Antonin was treated with electroshock, that he took up an interest in drawing and writing.
Artaud’s poem, Le Visage Humain, which in English translates to “The Human Face”, describes a man losing his face. The poem almost acts like a window to Artaud’s mind, allowing readers to visualize his perspective on his illness, his feelings, and most significantly, his strive to grasp on to the few strands of reality he has left. Interestingly enough, Artaud references Van Gogh in this poem, who is also thought to have had schizophrenia.
Overall, using art to cope with the symptoms of any mental illness may be beneficial to the patient. In many of the studies done testing the effectiveness of art therapy, researchers found a significant decrease in psychological symptoms in treatment groups as well as depression. Garippo states that it helps those with schizophrenia because, often, patients will resist standard treatment due to lack of interest. This approach allows patients to work through symptoms in a non-confrontational way so they are less likely to resist treatment.
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