Therapeutic creativity is not just random drawing, dancing, or making music. It is creativity with the purpose of tapping into emotions that cannot be expressed or possibly even accessed. Then, a trained therapist will guide you through the process of healing. The creative projects offered at my center, which include drawing masks, salsa dancing, writing songs, and many other activities, are carefully selected to explore emotions and help heal the brain. Later, many patients find they are able to use what they learned to continue therapeutic creativity on their own.
Yoga For Waist Pain Relief Therapeutic Creativity and the “Pain Brain” Photo Gallery
For years, I have observed the powerful impact that therapeutic creativity can have on the “pain brain.” Acting or thinking creatively increases gray matter in parts of the brain, including the periaqueductal gray, or PAG. Sitting right between the more evolutionary-advanced, “thinking” forebrain, and the more primitive brainstem, the PAG plays an important role in modulating responses to internal challenges such as pain. Directly connected to the brainstem, the PAG also influences heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, and other bodily functions related to the stress response and the chronic pain experience.
When all is working well, PAG neurons send chemical messengers that cause other brain cells to fire off signals of their own. These signals reach the spinal cord and dampen the flow of pain messages traveling through the nervous system. At the same time, the PAG receives and coordinates input from the amygdala and other areas where events are assigned emotional impact. More study is needed before we can fully understand the PAG, but it is clear that this part of the brain is crucial to the regulation of pain sensations, responses to stress, and emotions linked to pain and stress.
Creativity also increases gray matter in the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain that helps regulate memory, mood, decision-making, behavior, and the creation of social connections. We’ve long known that the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is impaired by pain; now we’re learning that its ability to function can be improved by stimulating creativity.
Because creativity is linked to areas of the brain involved in the chronic pain experience—pain perception, stress, emotions, memory, and more—and because so many patients improve when engaged in creative processing, it appears that creativity can physically remodel the “pain brain” and return it to a healthier state.