Academic journal article The Journal of Rehabilitation

Group-Oriented Community-Based Expressive Arts Programming for Individuals with Disabilities: Participant Satisfaction and Perceptions of Psychosocial Impact

Academic journal article The Journal of Rehabilitation

Group-Oriented Community-Based Expressive Arts Programming for Individuals with Disabilities: Participant Satisfaction and Perceptions of Psychosocial Impact

Article excerpt

For the past four decades, the creative arts have been utilized to a limited extent within rehabilitation with the intent of enhancing outcomes, including psychosocial functioning. Formally introduced by art therapy pioneers such as Margaret Naumburg and Edith Kramer, art as therapy has its roots in traditional psychiatric hospitals, clinics, and special schools for children with emotional disabilities (Kramer, 1977; Ulman, 1975). Today the therapeutic value of the arts is being recognized to a broader extent. Art activity centers have now been established in many hospital pediatric programs (DiCowden, 1987; Sourkes, 1991). These centers encourage children who have experienced trauma, disease, or disability to express the many emotions experienced in these situations through creative, often non-verbal experiences. Art therapy has also established a place in rehabilitation programs for individuals with brain injury (Barker & Brunk, 1991; Juraski, 1986; McGraw, 1989). These art approaches offer a supportive, non-confrontational, activity-centered treatment that fosters personal expression and serves as an alternative or catalyst to verbal therapy. In addition, educators have found art to be a useful tool in enhancing learning and problem-solving abilities when integrated into educational programming for students with disabilities (Kingsley, 1982; Miller, 1986; Very Special Arts, 1993).

Often when referring to "art", the focus is on a product that is tangible and created for the purpose of bringing pleasure to others. Less common is consideration of the impact for the artist in the process involved in creating art. "Expressive arts" (Creadick, 1985; Feder & Feder, 1981) is a term used to emphasize the processes within the many art forms; whether it be dance, drama, music, poetry, drawing, or painting. The therapeutic value inherent in art processes is a widely shared belief among writers in the arts (Kramer, 1977; Lowenfeld, 1957; Rubin, 1984). Individuals with disabilities often lack successful experiences in academics and sports due to their cognitive or physical limitations. The production of art can provide them with a sense of competence and mastery, which in turn builds self-esteem (DiCowden, 1987; Erickson, 1979; Omizo & Omizo, 1988). In addition, group art experiences can have additional benefits by providing much needed stimulation and socialization for individuals with disabilities who are isolated from peers (Canner Hume & Hiti, 1988; Clements & Clements, 1984; DiCowden, 1987).

Art is a valuable form of leisure. In an investigation of leisure satisfaction among adults with spinal cord injuries, Coyle, Lesnick-Emas, and Kinney (1994) concluded that leisure satisfaction was the most significant predictor of life satisfaction because it explained 43% of the variance in life satisfaction scores. Self-esteem and health satisfaction explained an additional 16% of the variance. The authors went on to recommend that leisure education and leisure counseling be included in rehabilitation programming in order to maximize life satisfaction achievement.

The use of expressive arts for the benefits of creating art (i.e., a process approach) has continued with individuals with disabilities despite some controversy and weaknesses in outcome documentation. Because the design of previous studies regarding the impact of art activity has frequently involved single case studies or anecdotal accounts, conclusions regarding the impact of expressive arts has been restricted (Anderson, 1983). Although single case studies (e.g., Schwarcz & Schapir, 1985; Simon, 1982) can provide valuable insights into the process of change and impact experienced by an individual who participates in expressive arts, such studies have limits for drawing broader conclusions about expressive arts as a valuable rehabilitation intervention. During the last decade, there has been improved qualitative research (Anderson, Ash & Gambach, 1982; Silver, 1989; Very Special Arts, 1993) which supports the utilization of art activity. …

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