Creating beauty from pain: Finding hope from mental illness


Mental illnesses do not make life impossible, but can make life difficult. Depending on the illness and level of severity, people who struggle with a mental illness may have trouble functioning throughout the day. Yet illnesses can become a source of inspiration through various forms of therapy.

One artist in particular, Josh Muir, has used his experience with addiction and depression to inspire his artwork. By taking his pain and expressing it on the canvas, Muir has found a way to positively process his emotions. Art forms are one example of how to process and explain mental illness and pain.

Through the looking glass: creative therapy

Teenagers may already struggle with expressing their emotions without a mental disorder or illness. At this transitional phase of life, teenagers are facing new experiences through a lens of curiosity and autonomy. Dealing with a mental illness compounds confusion and problems on the teen throughout his or her life. Cathy Malchiodi, Ph.D., lists different forms of creative therapy, including:

  • Art
  • Music
  • Dance
  • Drama
  • Poetry

Malchiodi adds how creative therapy is also known as expressive therapy and that, “Expressive therapies are sometimes referred to as ‘integrative’ when various arts are purposively used in combination in treatment.” These therapies are not simply about spending an hour drawing, dancing or singing. These therapies intermix expression with contemplation of the created content.

Creative therapy and expressive therapy, “Are both verbal and nonverbal because verbal communication of thoughts and feelings is a central part of therapy in most situations,” Malchiodi explains. The artistic domain allows for expression of pain that the individual may not be able to express through words alone; and then can talk about the created piece with the therapist and search for the meaning. Similar to a tape recorder, but for the thoughts words cannot describe.

Overcoming mental illness to find success

Success should not be determined by a single victory or achievement. The fruit of success is the craft of planting, seedtime and harvest – what revelations are birthed from efforts. Muir is an artist who has taken his pain and expressed it to find success. He takes each day at a time and uses his passion to invest in his life.

With his artwork, Muir has won the People’s Choice Award at the 2014 Indigenous Art Awards and won the 2014 Ballarat Youth Arts and Design Award. Follow Muir’s example and explore creativity as a form of expression. Professional sessions with an art therapist should still be sought out. Yet, even the simplest motion of a brush, the spin of a dance move or the pitch in a musical note can help to reveal much deeper emotions.

White River Academy is a residential boarding school nestled in the folds near the Great Basin, in Delta, Utah.  WRA is a new start for troubled boys ages 12 to 17, including treatment of mental disorders and substance abuse. Among highly lauded treatment modalities, WRA has used art therapy as an adjunct treatment for some of our young men to find healing through expression. For more information or to register, feel free to call 866-520-0905.

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