In a world where boys are taught that to be masculine is to use physicality over emotions, art can teach them where gentleness is still masculine, and when to exercise the ladder.
Just like yoga and dance, art is another way for a young boy to see that his power and strength does not just lye in the size of his biceps, but in his heart as well. More and more these days young boys are developing eating disorders, considering plastic surgery, abusing steroids and energy drinks trying to be like the "loud and proud" men they see in movies, tv, video games, and music videos. Yes boys will be boys, and being physical is normal way for boys with developing testosterone to behave, but boys are emotional creatures too.
When boys are not taught how to effectively manage their emotions in difficult and stressful situations, they lash out physically or internally. Alot of young men are afraid to express their emotions in front of their peers as they get older, and in turn,push it deep down inside until they are overwhelmed with anxiety and lash out. I truly believe all young men are capable of being gentle physically,as long as they have a spiritual and creative outlet to safely express it in.
I have had the privilege of teaching young boys dance, yoga, and music from the ages of 2 and up, and have witnessed first hand how they can grow into gentleman who are respectful to women verbally, and less violent with their peers. When they play fight they know when to stop,and are much more equipped to verbally express their feelings before a serious conflict arises. Some of the boys I have instructed were the bully or were being bullied in school, and it amazed me how by simply listening to them nervously express their emotions when they first began to open up made a huge difference. All of a sudden they were asking to help me co-teach and would even bring me water and drawings, as well as food.
Art teaches boys how to engage in nature, science, history and various subjects in a non confrontational way. For boys with learning disabilities, or behavior challenges they can become and remain engaged in subjects that they may otherwise have done poorly in over time. Art not only raises boys mental intelligence, but their emotional as well.
Art naturally makes a person pause, slow down, and think about the world around them and allows for the greatest or most painful memories to be turned into something positive.
Whether you purchase them art kits for them to use at their leisure at home, or sign them up for an art class, a meditating child, is a more balanced child.
Art therapy, a proven method of recovery for those struggling with PTSD.
I wanted to use my experiences as an artist with a disability to help others, so in my early twenties I began working for various community and social service agencies on a part time basis. As I began to work full time, hearing peoples stories became too much.
I am sure you have read about firefighters, paramedics, policemen, nurses,doctors, soldiers, bus drivers, and social workers who have struggled with PTSD with very little success in recovery when reaching out for help. This truth remains partially because there is such a stigma around mental health.
Good news is thanks to social media and collaborative efforts by companies and not for profit organizations campaigns, the table has been opened to encourage people to talk about mental health, and be available to their loved ones if they need to talk. Slowly we are di stigmatizing mental health and PTSD, but there is still room for improvement.
As a caregiver, I truly believe that people who work in the social and public services industry really do care, and humans can only absorb so much pain before it boils over. These same everyday heroes tend to work over time, and
double time, giving very little space for downtime. Downtime is especially important for caregivers as they witness some of the worlds greatest tragedies. They run towards the fire when we run away, knowing they may never come back. Caregivers also feel at times over burdened, under-appreciated and simply like they aren't doing enough.
I left the community and social services industry in my mid twenties from burn out.I did not know I had PTSD till I learned more about it. I felt ashamed, as who was I to complain when other people around me were hurting so much more? I felt like I needed to be strong for them, and was scared to be judged or rejected if I spoke up about how much I was hurting. I would be okay for a while, then I would be triggered,and fall into depression. It was a vicious cycle, and as time went by it became harder to "stay happy" for a while again.
Thank goodness an artist's husband donated her art supplies to me when she passed away. I began to paint again. What I created was not for the purpose of sale or for me to post on instagram. It was just a way for me to divulge my most intimate pain in a private and healing way.
One day I was painting, and it dawned on me that I was no longer sad when I painted. I also realized I was happier more than I was sad. I had been painting for about 5 years when I had this Epiphany. Everyone heals differently in their own timing. Although I danced, sang and wrote songs, nothing quite expressed my deep emotions quite the same way as painting.
Counselling is paid for by work places, and I think dance, art or music classes should be too. Not only as a preventative measure for caregivers in the front-line, but also as a recommendation when they are beginning to show signs of distress.
As a workplace you can show your support to your staff by offering art classes in house, or creating a culture that stresses the importance of play hard as equally as they work hard. Providing these opportunities to your workers will make them more productive, help them keep the passion alive for what they do, and help decrease the turn around rate,.
I can honestly say in all of the workplaces I worked, not one of them ever reached out to me. When I reached out to them they simply suggested I took time off. Time off will only help a person so much. Extroverted and introverted people deal with trauma differently yes, but each of them needs an outlet regardless. My mother is and has been a nurse for almost 30 years. I witnessed her heartaches, passion, and joy as she positively affected so many lives. I also remember her putting herself last, which caregivers tend to do. She is now taking my art classes, and to see the joy in her eyes makes me happy because she deserves it. She is so dedicated to her field that she is only semi-retired, but now she understands the importance of loving herself as much as her neighbor.
How about a little art prescription therapy?
For years, researchers believed that addictions was a disease, and that at the utmost it could only be treated with medications, and rehabilitation centers with very little hope of recovery. What researchers have know learned, and studies have shown is that addiction can come from childhood trauma, but also from a lack of adequate healthy social connections in ones adult life. It is important to separate the person from the addiction, and realize that every addict has the hope of recovery.
I can honestly say that I have never been addicted to drugs or alcohol, but I have been to dance and fitness. One might say how can addiction to physical exercise be bad? Well amazingly it is. It can reak havoc on your joints, muscles, organs and heart. Too much of a good thing, is just that. The question is when do you draw the line? When does it end? For me I had to realize that me as a person mattered more than looking like girls in fitness magazines, I dance because I love it, and I am good at it. Winning in a dance competition because I have trained a little extra is a bonus. Plus exercise IS something that should be apart of our daily routine. The difference between an addiction to a hobby and an addiction to drugs, alcohol, or prescriptions is that it is never a healthy hobby even in small doses.
In my childhood like many others, I experienced trauma. I didn't want to fall into drinking, drugs or cigarettes, so I turned to health and fitness and creativity to cope with my emotions. Unlike exercise, creativity never hurt my physical body, spirit, mind or emotions, and as long as I stayed on a budget.
For a couple of years I worked in Downtown Winnipeg as a an Art Therapist/ Outreach Worker in two different Drop-In Art Centers located in temporary homeless shelters. At first only one or two people came to the class, then bit by bit more came until the entire room was full of students. A room full of students than transformed into three volunteers, which lead to two casual paid assistant positions with myself. Empowering participants through individual and group artwork sessions to build confidence, gain social skills, personal life ambitions, and heal from trauma could came with 30 mins. to 3 hours here and there. I truly believe that:
"Transformed people, transform people."
To conquer any challenge in life. we all need a mentor and a positive role mode. I try to be that person for my students by making art more approachable and less intimidating.
cognitive behavior patterns that lead to having an addictive personality can be unlearned from cognitive rehabilitation, and art therapy is a proven method of success. This is why I have found in my occupational experience, that so many people who are attempting to recover have failed with scheduled counselling and prescription medications. Art doesn't need to have a structured, rigid format to be art, and the path of recovery isn't a clear 12 step program either.
The goal of an art class for the purpose of therapy or creative expression for an individual should be healing, at their own pace. Un-prescribed, raw, non-methodical, self-lead healing. Sometimes when working on an art piece new light can be shed on areas of darkness as the brain begins to work better as decision making patterns begin to shift and align.
Being an "addict" can usually carry a much more heavier meaning. Usually when someone is an addict there is determinatal affects of the addiction already present in their life. No one can go back in time and change their past, However, art can help them re-frame it into something positive. This opens the door for the addictions to speak less, so the heart of the addict can speak more. Opening the individual up to talk to therapists, and even sometimes family about their experiences so they can move on, and move up in their life.
A previous addict can not be successful in life management if they have not worked on the root cause of their addiction, their "triggers." Triggers can come at any time for any reason, no matter how positive a person is trying to be. Whether it is dance, music, fitness, fixing an old car, or painting mini figurines, everyone needs a hobby to "escape" to or express those triggers in a positive fashion.
If it wasen't for the the mentors I had (dance and art teachers), I wouldn't be the person I am today. I know one thing for sure, arts saved my life. Every one deserves excitement and adventure in their lives as part of Maslow's Hierarchy needs.
Stephanie A.E Strugar
Certified Grumbacher Painting & Drawing Instructor.
She is a retired Certified Face/ Body & Temporary Tattoo Artist.
Caricaturist. She is currently an active
Public Speaker, Consultant, and Arts Educator in the Manitoba and greater Canada area.