I discovered the healing arts naturally. Learning how to paint consumed much of my time as an awkward pre-teen, and creating art helped me to work through challenging situations. The process enabled me to channel my angst in a positive direction because making art was comforting. Of course, back then I had no idea how healthy painting was for me.

The difference between using painting as a healing arts practice, or doing it for fun, is your intention. Of course, working with a professional is always a good idea. As an adult, my doctor referred me to a practitioner who held art-therapy groups. She helped us explore relationships, trauma, and learn how to establish healthy boundaries. As I came to realize, there's a wide range of practices that fall under the umbrella of healing arts. The purpose of this article is to highlight alternative healthcare options, not to provide medical advice. You should always consult your physician before making any changes in your medical routines.

What Are the Healing Arts?

The healing arts are creative practices that include music and dance, making art, and storytelling. Mind-body therapies and integrative medicine also fall under the umbrella of healing arts. Often, medical doctors and psychologists mix these types of treatments with mainstream medicine. Again, make sure to check with your doctor before trying anything new. It's likely they'll have warnings and suggestions. Remember, alternative therapies are potent, and their effects are different for each of us depending on our unique medical history.

Complimentary versus alternative medicine

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), most people use a combination of alternative and standardized medicine as opposed to using only one or the other. The NIH points out that using a-typical procedures alone makes them alternative. However, a combination of approaches, using holistic methods in conjunction with mainstream procedures, means they are complementary. Ongoing research regarding complimentary healthcare includes how to manage pain without drugs, as well as innovative approaches for disease prevention, and mental health care.

Art Therapy Compliments Mainstream Medicine

Often, personal issues that go unexpressed show up as disorders. Art therapy provides another avenue of interpretation for our emotions. Creativity helps to foster a connection to self, building emotional resilience. The practice also promotes insight and improves social skills. Certified clinicians known as art therapists use healing arts to work with diverse populations who have a variety of medical and mental health challenges. They use creativity as access to feelings that have no words because language is often useless when it comes to expressing emotions. However, art therapy engages the mind, body, and spirit in making sense of it all.

Creating a piece of art involves all of the senses. To that end, art helps us discover personal symbolism that represents who we are on a spiritual and emotional level. Practicing art therapy is especially helpful to children and people who are on the autistic spectrum. Art therapy can potentially alleviate eating disorders, addictive behaviors, medical, and memory problems as well.

Some exercises include drawing an emotional color wheel, making a mandala, or doodling a zentangle. Also, painting or drawing a past, present, and future self-portrait is an intriguing way to discover how you feel about yourself.

Music soothes the soul

Similarly, music therapy has physical, emotional, and social benefits; it can be helpful to those who find it difficult to express themselves in words. A qualified music therapist provides treatment including playing or writing music. Also, singing, dancing, and listening to music all have benefits. Research in music therapy supports its effectiveness, showing that music enhances physical rehabilitation by facilitating movement. It increases motivation by giving emotional support to patients and their families. And, it's an outlet to express one's feelings.

Music therapy is an optional treatment for military personnel who suffer from PTSD and to help Alzheimer patients. Singing and dancing calm people with autism. Mental health issues and pain management benefit from music therapy too. Who hasn't used music to feel better at some point in their lives?

Storytelling means you matter

In her article, "Why Your Story Matters, the healing power of personal narrative," Doctor Deborah Serani tells us that trauma leaves you in a state of permanent alert. The upheaval caused by the damage destroys your sense of wellbeing, isolates you, and makes you lose hope. That's why your story is so important; to heal, humans need to be able to make sense of what happened.

We feel fragmented and numb after a traumatic event. But, as Doctor Serani puts it, " You have the power to reclaim your sense of self and your life by inviting your story to be told." There are lots of ways to tell your story. If your narrative is one of survival, be sure to use your therapist as a guide when you begin to unravel the details. Telling your story is a healing experience even if the events weren't traumatic. Keeping a journal, sharing your life in a blog, or writing a memoir are all viable ways to record your account and take a more in-depth look at who you are as a whole.

Mind-Body Therapy

Woman meditating facing the ocean

Mind-body medicine encompasses the spectrum of human behavior, medical, social, and spiritual needs. All of these things influence our health and our ability to fight disease. Complementary and alternative medical research currently focuses on several areas, including pediatrics, addiction, cardiovascular disease, and aging, to name a few. As you can imagine, the options for integrating standard western medicine with other processes are abundant.

Guided imagery helps you picture progress

Guided imagery is a way of focusing your imagination to visualize peaceful images in your mind's eye. This type of visualization is to help you relax and to tap into your inner strength. It's a process that involves all the senses, the whole body, and our emotions. Guided imagery is a way of viewing your ideas, feelings, and experiences. It has physical effects as well, such as slowing heart rate, reducing blood pressure, and calming our breathing.

More than 200 research studies over 30 years examined mind-body techniques and their place as a tool for helping patients. Guided imagery proved overall, to dramatically counteract fear, panic, anxiety, and helplessness. Using guided imagery can help people overcome stress, anger, pain, depression, and insomnia. Another unexpected advantage is its ability to decrease side effects and complications of medical procedures. Consequently, the practice reduces recovery time and strengthens the immune system, enhancing the body's ability to heal.

Bio-feedback gives your mind power over your body

Biofeedback is a technique to help control your body's functions, such as your heart rate. According to the Mayo Clinic, with biofeedback, you're connected to electrical sensors that receive information about your body. The idea is that the information collected will empower you by helping you to use your mind to control your body actively. Theoretically, you would be able to do things like relaxing particular muscles to improve a condition, obtain better physical performance, and relieve pain. In essence, biofeedback gives you the power to use your thoughts to control your body, often to improve a health condition or physical performance.

Hypnosis isn't a parlor trick

A trained clinical hypnotherapist puts the patient into a trance-like state similar to meditation. The client is then guided to turn their attention inward. As they go deeper into the hypnotic state, they find and are prompted to utilize their natural resources to make changes or regain control in certain areas of their life. There are numerous applications since hypnotherapy works in conjunction with other forms of psychological or medical treatment. Practitioners use hypnosis to treat anxiety, phobias, and addictive behaviors like smoking. Sleep and learning disorders benefit from hypnotherapy as well. Medically, doctors prescribe hypnosis to help with pain management, skin issues, and gastrointestinal problems, among other ailments.

Hypnosis is a tool to facilitate other types of treatments. If you choose hypnotherapy, make sure to get a referral and work only with professionals who are licensed by the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis (ASCH) or the Society for Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis.

Integrative Medicine for Holistic Healing

The NIH says integrative health care combines conventional and complementary healing arts approaches including mental, emotional, functional, spiritual, social, and community aspects. In this way, integrative medicine seeks to treat the whole person rather than one issue or symptom. The goal with this holistic approach is to coordinate care between different providers and institutions, as my doctor did for me when she referred me to an art therapy program.



According to the eastern philosophy behind acupuncture, Qi (pronounced chee) is our life force, which flows from our head to our toes though meridians that line our body. Research is helping western medicine to understand the benefits provided by acupuncture. One excellent example of acupuncture's advantages is its ability to release muscular trigger points, which can cause myofascial pain as a complementary therapy.

Not to mention, acupuncture releases the body's natural painkiller, endorphins, and also reduces inflammation.

Massage therapy


A trained practitioner should perform therapeutic massage. The benefits are short term, so massage therapy is an ongoing treatment for issues such as back pain, headaches, and mental health. Therapeutic massage also appears to benefit people who have fibromyalgia, by temporarily reducing pain and fatigue. Cancer patients benefit from this integrative medicine because of the reduction in pain, but it also promotes relaxation and helps boost their mood. Honestly though, who wouldn't benefit from massage therapy when it comes to reducing the stress of everyday living?

Spiritual Care

Part of being wholly healthy is taking care of yourself spiritually. We're not saying that you have to start a new religion, spiritual care in reference to healing arts acknowledges that there is more to you than a body and a mind. Our spirit connects us to ourselves and each other.

Salt therapy

Himalayan Bath Salt

You probably know that a warm bath and salt soak helps you relax and relieves muscle tension. However, using Epsom salts for a nice relaxing soak isn't the only way to get salt therapy. In the 1800s, a Polish doctor discovered that miners who worked in salt caves didn’t get lung disease like other miners. Then, during World War II, a German physician found that people who used salt mines to hide from attacks saw improvements in respiratory conditions.

According to the American Lung Association, it's possible that the inhaled salt may benefit by thinning mucus in the airway, thus making it easier to cough up. Others believe that salt reduces inflammation and kills microbes in the lungs, reducing the risk of infection. One thing is for sure, salt rooms aren’t likely to contain allergy-provoking substances, so it stands to reason that anyone who has allergies will at least gain some temporary relief.

The Modernization of the Salt Cave

Halotherapy is the modern salt therapy. Instead of sitting in a salt cave, halotherapy offers the same advantages in a spa setting. The difference between the manufactured salt cave and the natural salt cave is in the salt dispersion. Halotherapy uses an aerosol method to disperse salt molecules, the same size as those found in a salt cave, into the air. The small particles absorb into bronchial pathways where they can reduce inflammation. The negative ions from the salt are said to act in skin rejuvenation too, thereby helping to achieve a better complexion. Halotherapy is also used to treat psoriasis and dermatitis.



One of the ancient healing arts, Reiki comes to us from Japan and means universal life energy. It's not a religious practice. It's a form of energy work using our life force, as the name suggests. Reiki Practitioners believe that everyone has their own healing ability. A person’s “ki” or energy, needs to be active and free-flowing for their mind and body to be healthy. We experience both physical and emotional symptoms when our life force is weak or blocked.

Reiki is an excellent way to reduce stress and relax. It's not a cure for a disease or illness but does facilitate healing. Hospitals and other care facilities commonly implement Reiki as part of their complimentary practice to medical procedures.

The Path to Better Health

Today, mainstream medicine is more likely to incorporate healing arts as a complementary approach that may include hypnosis, acupuncture, halotherapy, or art therapy among other a-typical procedures. You should always consult your physician or therapist before trying any alternative approach. Once approved, you're sure to find that a holistic lifestyle, taking into account your spiritual wellbeing as well as your mental and physical constitution, will put you on the path to better overall health.