Grief is a difficult beast. Grieving individuals are often asked to express what they are feeling or thinking, so that the people around them can understand how best to support them. In times of immense sorrow, it can be challenging to communicate anything other than “sad,” because grief encompasses so many more emotions than that – and those emotions are hard to describe.
An inability to articulate grief can create its own set of deeper issues like, depression, anxiety, or inability to achieve regular life tasks.
So, how can one express and explore their grief without actually saying them outright?
Expressive therapy utilizes art, music, dance, and other forms of creative voice to help people navigate their feelings. It can support grieving people by helping them to tell their loss story, find meaning in the circumstance, and establish a lasting bond with the person lost.
FVHH Social Worker, Jacquelyn Jennings is a proponent of expressive therapy, having recently developed a group called, Altered Pages. This group is for teens who have experienced the loss of a loved one. Participants are provided a journal and art prompts to complete, which help them to express their loss experience.
“It is important for grieving people to make sense of what has happened [to them] and to find meaning in the experience. Expression through art can help tell that story and lead us to consider deep and meaningful questions about who we are and about how the loss fits into our story,” Jacquelyn said.
Expressing oneself through art can help facilitate the process of telling one’s story and answering questions about the circumstance. It is an outward way of describing what the grieving individual feels for the lost loved one and the relationship they had with that person.
Contemporary philosophies surrounding grief often support this practice. Continuing Bonds Theory explains that when a person dies you do not compartmentalize that relationship as a stage in your life, and then completely shut off those memories. Instead, you adapt to your life without the deceased person, and then form an alternative, lasting connection with them through remembrances and reflection. “[Art expression] is another way to affirm that the person was important to us and what that looks like,” Jacquelyn remarked.
Grieving often puts our minds and bodies through intense stress. “It can be as physically exhausting as it is mentally,” Jacquelyn noted, but creating art can help to combat the exhaustion brought on by grief. Research has shown that the physical process of making art can reduce a hormone called Cortisol, which is released in our bodies when we are subjected to stress.
While the current Altered Pages program offered by FVHH is targeted for teens, expressive therapies can be beneficial to any age and skill level. Jacquelyn expressed that it is important for any person, at any capability to, “drop all expectations of yourself, and do not worry if your art is good enough. Enjoy the physical and sensory experiences of creating art.” She continued saying, “Art journaling, and any form of expressive therapy is as much about the process as it is the product.”
A person can lower any potential inhibitions by physically connecting with the tools involved. For example, notice how the paintbrush feels in your hand, or how the ink flow across the page. Connecting with the physical process of creation can be very liberating!