The proven benefits of Mindfulness-based Art Therapy

It has long been established that complementary methods of stress reduction are vital to sufferers of terminal illness. At minimum, they can make a difficult situation tolerable, and at maximum, may even provide the emotional wellness necessary to lift one out of illness and back into physical health. Multiple trials prove the effectiveness of complementary practices on overall wellbeing. A recent study at the Jefferson-Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine details the specific benefits to be gained by the practice of Minfulness-based Art Therapy (MBAT). The study is unique as it is the first time that the physiological benefits of MBAT have been approached in research.

The study was performed on 18 sufferers of breast cancer, none of whom were con-currently receiving cancer treatment. They underwent a MBAT therapy programme consisting of two parts. The first part consisted of breath awareness, yoga and general mindfulness practice. The next part consisted of art activities undertaken while employing the attitude of mindfulness learnt previously. The second aspect of the MBAT program aims to promote self-regulation and coping mechanisms in participants.

Assessment of the effects on participants, as compared to the control group, were taken by two evaluative techniques. A typical psychological questionnaire was posed both before and after the programme. In addition to this, physiological results were sought by the use of Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (FMRI) scans, which give a picture of cerebral blood flow in response to activities. As expected, the participants in the MBAT programme reported significantly less anxiety after their course. Blood flow in the brain was also shown to be significantly increased, especially in regard to its emotional centres; the left insula, responsible for perceiving emotions; the amygdale, responsible for regulating stress; the hippocampus, responsible for the stress response and the caudate nucleus, responsible for the reward experience.

The results are significant for providing physiological proof to support methods already informally known to improve the wellness of cancer sufferers. Cerebral blood flow can be said to correlate strongly with a reduction in the experience of stress, which in turn improves immune functioning. Accordingly, these benefits help the cancer sufferer to gain a higher quality of life as well as the strength to fight their disease.

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