Music had always been a part of her life and had woven its way into every fiber of her being. She sang with the radio in the car and belted jazz standards at the kitchen sink. She wrote and performed humorous song parodies. She learned to sing in several languages and knew the lyrics to hundreds of songs by heart.
And then she got dementia. One by one, her memories deserted her. Once familiar rooms looked strange. Friends and family members lost their names.
But the music? It remained. Day after day, her daughter sat with her at the keyboard, and they played. Song and after song, they sang, their voices rising in harmony. And all those words that had planted themselves deep in musical soil rose from beneath dementia’s cruel fog and blossomed afresh every morning, miraculous as newborn spring.
Her story is beautiful. But it’s not unique.
According to this Chronogram article, Sing, Act, Dance, Heal, by Wendy Kagan, “Scientists have long suggested that while language is largely held in the left side of the brain, music activates regions in both hemispheres, as well as areas deep within the brain that hold memory and emotion. That's why song lyrics can act like a superhighway (or a bumpy country road, as the case may be), connecting music and speech for people suffering from stroke, dementia, or brain injuries. It is this unique ‘whole brain’ approach that makes music, and perhaps some of the other expressive arts too, so richly promising therapeutically.”
March 13-19 is Creative Arts Therapies Week — a time set aside to celebrate the healing power of the arts, and the perfect opportunity to share some of the key reasons behind why we do what we do here at First Aid Arts.
While we are always careful to point out that we are not teaching art therapy, our Healing Arts Toolkit has been diligently researched and designed with the help of expressive arts therapists to provide arts-based psycho-social resources for counselors, volunteers, therapists, and others working with traumatized populations. Not only have we seen beauty blossom in the lives of trauma survivors, we’ve witnessed art’s therapeutic power in the lives of those who serve those survivors as well.
Kagan’s article goes on to discuss the unique power of group arts-based activities, quoting renowned trauma expert, psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk: "The function of our brain is to be in synch with each other. When you get traumatized you get frozen; you get stuck in hyper-arousal. You lose this synchronicity to yourself and to people around you.”
Singing, moving, or creatively interacting with others helps rewire the brain, forming new connections and bringing it back on track.
Our Healing Arts Toolkit is designed to be experienced in a group setting, giving us a front row seat to the wonder of synchronicity at work again and again during our trainings. We’re never surprised when we hear from attendees that they continue to practice therapeutic arts in their own lives for their own well-being. The dividends of experiencing the expressive arts can extend to just about anyone.
So, what about you? How will you celebrate Creative Arts Therapies Week? Maybe you could gather your friends for an impromptu drum circle or sign up for a line dancing class. And of course you can always sing along with the radio and belt out your favorites at the kitchen sink. If anyone complains, just tell them you're accessing the therapeutic power of the arts and invite them to join in.
We do hope you are enjoying the healing power of art in your life, and as always, we deeply appreciate the gift of your friendship. Thank you for your support. And a huge THANK YOU to the many amazing individuals and organizations practicing creative arts therapies. You make the world more beautiful, and this week we celebrate you.