Managing Grief Through Art Therapy

Managing Grief Through Art Therapy

What is Grief?

Grief occurs when we have experienced some form of loss that may include a person’s health, relationship, pet, job, or loved one. And while we may not be able to describe the roller coaster of emotions we’re feeling, we do know that we are not ourselves.

At times when we feel out of sorts, feelings such as low self-esteem, depression, illness, and confusion often surface. This can manifest into thoughts that our feelings are temporarily out of our control. Because of this, the experience can be difficult to manage. Expressive arts can help open all channels to the grieving body.

Challenges of Grief

Loss can reveal itself many forms, some of which are more destructive than others. It forces us to confront five specific psychological challenges.

  1. Overcoming Emotional Pain:
    The most immediate challenge we face is that of paralyzing emotional pain. Our challenge is to find ways to simply get through those first difficult hours, days, and weeks.
  2. Adjusting to the Changes in Our Daily Life:
    Loss and grief can change almost every aspect of our daily lives. In order to recover, we have to come to terms with the changes that were suddenly forced upon us and discover new ways of living.
  3. Reformulating Our Personalities:
    Substantial loss and grief can have an impact on how we define who we are. We feel as if the person we once were is gone and the person we see in the mirror is a stranger. To recover, we have to rebuild our identities and come to peace with our new lives.
  4. Rebuilding Our Relationships:
    It’s common for people to react to profound loss by withdrawing into themselves. Unfortunately, disability and sickness often make others uncomfortable, causing them to withdraw from us. To recover, we have to reconnect with those who are in our lives and form new connections that reflect our new reality.
  5. Altering Our Belief Systems:
    Attempting to make sense of our experiences can overwhelm us with questions and doubts. We have to find ways of making sense of what happened and modifying our belief systems accordingly. To thrive, we must find within ourselves a new purpose to drive our existence.

art therapy for grief


Art Therapy for Managing Grief

Art Therapy also provides a valuable outlet for expressing grief, which can be a complicated process. People often don’t just feel the loss of a loved one, but also experience guilt, regret, anger, and shame. These emotions are especially pertinent if the dynamics of the relationship were strained prior to the loss.

Benefits of Art Therapy for Grief

Sensory and Emotional Experiences:

Art therapy allows grieving individuals to express and process their emotional and sensory experiences. The process itself is what is most important initially, not the art that is created.

Making Meaning of What Happened:

At first glance, the art created during art therapy sessions may appear to be meaningless, but as the art therapist and client explore the artwork together, deeper metaphors and meanings materialize. This can bring hope and meaning back into our lives. 

Exploration of One’s Self:

Whether grieving the loss of a loved one or of a life once lived, going through the process often brings up questions. When we get into our own creative flow, we can often discover new insights through the emotional experience of creative self-expression. 

Remembering and Honoring:

Commemorating a moment in time, a person, or a memory is very important for those experiencing grief and loss. Art is a great way to honor a person and can help individuals continue to feel the presence of that person in their lives.

The Transformation Process:

When someone we love dies, we are changed forever, just as with other life changes. The art created through art therapy can become a vehicle to record the transformation process, by reflecting the changes that occur over time.

There is no established timeline with grief. Through art-making and conversation, individuals are able to process their emotions, find meaning in their experiences, explore existential questions, and honor and remember what once was and transform.

Find out if Art Therapy Can Help You Cope with Grief