The Arts as Healer

Words Diane Maris

It is no surprise that much has been written about the power of the arts, from ancient times to the present. On the one hand we are intrigued by what the arts offer us – on the other hand, we sometimes forget that the arts are innate within us – they are indeed our birthright for the discovery and expression of a more creative and meaningful life.

Although there are specific and hard-earned skills associated with playing music and making art, these approaches are only part of an unfolding story, which taps into the healing power of these modalities. By visiting the worlds within us, we find access to a vast array of possibilities which are available to us all – infinite ways of inviting creative expression into our worlds. And the wonder of all is that music and art by-pass words – they communicate through image and sound, thus tapping into the deepest and often least known parts of ourselves – that place of the collective and personal unconscious mind. And the documented health benefits are many, including the balancing of right and left brain.

When we engage with the healing power of the arts, we tap into this vast reservoir of universal knowledge and we expand ourselves and our view of our world – in short – we begin then to make meaning out of the many challenges which face us daily and we give voice to our existential longings and needs. 

As the case studies below will demonstrate, music and art (in this case) are a powerful accompaniment to our healing journeys – these modalities can support our efforts in self-understanding, they can help us heal from trauma and they can assist us in mapping our paths through unknown territory.

The more we understand about life below the radar, the more effective we can become as loving and lovable human beings, enhancing our capacity to contribute meaningfully to our own lives as well as the lives of others. We can find access to relief from physical pain, mental anguish, emotional denial and spiritual questioning, emerging instead with joyous mind, peaceful heart and tools for ongoing support through life. 

The Bonny Method of Guided Imagery and Music (BMGIM) is a psycho-therapeutic modality, which uses a listening process to assist clients in accessing information from the shadow self. Specific music is listened to, often with a chosen intention for eliciting imagery, kinesthetic responses to or insights from the music being heard. This process culminates in mandala-drawing, which represents images and insights brought by the client’s experience with the music. No art experience is necessary and, very often, child-like images appear, which offer a visual document from the client’s life within. The genre of music used is usually classical music for its capacity to express a vast range of emotion, expressing the musical elements as projections of the client’s inner world. With the co-support of music and therapist, the client is encouraged to move into challenging areas of their physical or emotional life and to allow the music to guide them through the pain.

Mandala Assessment Research Instrument (MARI) is a therapeutic art modality, which draws on the energy of symbols and colours to represent a client’s current psychological state.  During a MARI session, these symbols and colours, chosen intuitively, are placed on a board reflecting 13 stages of The Great Round – a walk through various stages of life. The Great Round represents the developmental stages of life and is likened to the cycles in nature, the growth of a seed into a sapling, becoming a tree which flowers and bears fruit and is followed by the fruit becoming seed once again. This speaks to the spiral nature of life.

The MARI offers a therapeutic space for clients, inviting an opportunity to engage creatively with current challenging situations, to ‘see’ the possible obstacles and to ‘listen’ to their own intuition (reflected in their choice of colours and cards) which offers suggestions for practical application in daily life. This process, too, is further enhanced through the creative act of art-making.

Many clients book one-off sessions to be repeated some months later, while others find it useful to engage weekly or bi-weekly over longer periods, as ongoing support for working through life situations.

The therapeutic value of the creative arts case studies

Kyla booked three online sessions, after the birth of her first baby at the onset of Covid last year. She was experiencing anxiety around bonding with her new baby, at the same time, having lost work due to the pandemic. The sessions helped to ease her anxiety, bringing clarity and peace of mind and a deepened understanding of her connection to her baby. She felt strengthened and found it easier to focus on positive ways to engage with her baby and her environment, such as spending time in nature, as well listening to more music at home. This was empowering for her family unit as they all benefited from hearing more music being played in the home. We explored the importance of singing to her child, something which is natural to the human experience of communication, but which can be forgotten during times of stress and which becomes soothing to both mother/father and child. Kyla’s experience of drawing with the music was a powerful reminder of her innate capacity to express emotion through image and colour. She was encouraged to revisit her drawings after her sessions, as supportive memories of the profound, though subtle changes brought about by her engagement with the creative arts. Kyla felt encouraged by remembering that, as her baby grows, they will be able to make music and art together – forever bonding through the experience of creativity.

Tina booked a MARI session, to try and cope with a very heavy workload. By engaging with the MARI cards, the music and drawing, she discovered that her lower back pain disappeared.

A few weeks later, having just moved house, Tina booked a second session, feeling tense about a relationship issue as well as the move (in with her partner) and, by the end of this session, her neck, jaw and upper back tension considerably eased and she felt relieved that the session confirmed for her that her choice to move felt right.

Tina reported: “I was feeling so stressed and, after the first session, I felt more grounded and I found a greater sense of clarity. In the second session, I understood the necessity of learning to take care of myself and the people I love. I began to see how I use my stress to attack myself and how I harm myself with my thought patterns. Once we allow ourselves to connect with our inner world, we learn to live life very differently by connecting with the many aspects of ourselves, including the physical body and this is how we can prevent disease. I feel it now – if there is no music and art as support, I think that is how people go crazy.”

During a one-off session, Jeanette, a medical doctor,admitted that she had had very little experience with processing her emotions. Her partner, who is immersed in creative arts work, suggested she book a MARI session. She had many insights during the session and, although she was left with much to process, she felt unburdened from finding safety to place her ‘worries’ and questions into the process. She opened up about aspects of her life which she had not discussed with anyone previously – this was a powerful release for her.

Jane is currently enrolled in a 12-week creativity course, which incorporates MARI, GIM as well as process art and writing. After her fifth session, she reported: “I feel more conscious and aware of myself and my world. New themes have emerged which I was not aware of before – themes of moving and growing, beginnings and endings. My awareness has intensified and I am literally seeing things differently”

In January this year, Roland quit his job and embarked on monthly MARI and GIM sessions. He reports that his inner world has opened up, offering him insights for ‘where to from here’. As a result of repeated music-listening, he is becoming experienced at listening to the yearnings and directives of his inner life, thus enabling sure-footed decision-making going forward.

Some general changes noted with clients:
Their sense of noticing and connecting to themselves, their home and working environment is enhanced by a new understanding of how they express their love of colour, texture and symbols in their environment.

The music aspect of this work invites clients to discover new ways of listening to music, finding strength and a sense of joy in the music they invite into their lives. They become more sensitive to what genres of music they wish to engage with, and they learn about how to support themselves through music-listening. Some clients even admit to dancing to music at home or even singing in the shower – experiencing immense joy in the simplicity of these acts of expression.

The artists’ voices.

Benvenuto Cellini, the Florentine sculptor: “For I am confident that my hands will be such that they will say who I am!”
Paul Gauguin, the artist: “I shut my eyes in order to see.”
Louis Armstrong, musician: “What we play is life.”
Snoopy, from Peanuts, by Charles Schulz: “To dance is to live.”

Diane has a special interest in the transformative power of the creative arts. She uses Mandala Assessment Research Instrument (MARI) and The Bonny Method of Guided Imagery and Music, as therapeutic support for the endeavours of Life towards Balance. Diane’s approach incorporates process art techniques as well as energy medicine, to enhance the alchemy of creative expression. She offers courses and sessions, both live and online, for individuals and groups of all ages.

A testimonial from one of Diane’s international MARI students, Jean, who recently studied the online course to become a certified MARI practitioner:

The past months spending time to learn MARI from you have been really a precious process. There is so much to learn about MARI and thank you for your unconditional teaching. In addition, you have walked with me through a transition in my career, I feel the support and guidance. With the deepest thanks from my heart, thank you Diane.” 

imageryandmusic@iafrica.com   www.dianemaris.com    


Diane Maris

Diane has a special interest in the transformative power of the creative arts. She uses Mandala Assessment Research Instrument (MARI) and The Bonny Method of Guided Imagery and Music, as therapeutic support for the endeavours of Life towards Balance. Diane’s approach incorporates process art techniques as well as energy medicine, to enhance the alchemy of creative expression. She offers courses and sessions, both live and online, for individuals and groups of all ages. A testimonial from one of Diane’s international MARI students, Jean, who recently studied the online course to become a certified MARI practitioner: The past months spending time to learn MARI from you have been really a precious process. There is so much to learn about MARI and thank you for your unconditional teaching. In addition, you have walked with me through a transition in my career, I feel the support and guidance. With the deepest thanks from my heart, thank you Diane.”  imageryandmusic@iafrica.com   www.dianemaris.com

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