Art therapy has been a tool used in occupational health and therapy for quite a while, now it’s gaining well-deserved recognition as a tool for managing and supporting mental health.
One of the reasons knitting and crochet is an exceptionally good therapeutic practice is repetitive motions. Research has found that repetitive movements in animals enhance the release of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates mood and social behavior, appetite and digestion, sleep, memory, and sexual desire and function. Plus, repetitive eye movement, particularly from side to side, for at least 30 seconds a day can help boost memory by 10%, some early research suggests.
A study by Sinikka Pöllänen from University of Joensuu in Eastern Finland found that crafts offered women a feeling of deep reward and pride in creating something valuable, a way to relax and enjoy internal reflection, and to understand their lives and values with greater clarity. While it wasn’t explicitly explored, the significance of bodily experiences was evident in the study’s source materials; respondents described craft as a way to push away pain - whether physical or mental - through focus on the activity’s calming rhythms.
Additionally, arts and crafts are wonderful community builders - from giving people an accessible activity to do in a group setting, like a knitting circle, to providing a new lens to view themselves and other members of their social group, building their confidence and developing deeper social connections. Participants in a research project in Scotland consistently reported that their involvement in participatory art projects left them feeling engaged and empowered.
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