What do you need to be healthy? Drink plenty of water, exercise, eat good food, what about painting or playing music? Numerous studies reveal a link between creativity and good health. It’s not even about producing a beautiful picture or writing an award winning story, merely the process of being creative helps individuals become less anxious, more resilient, and better problem-solvers, or as art therapist Jane Baron puts it, “The creative process is an excellent form of self diagnosis, bringing awareness to and working through our inhibitions, fears, brain fog, insecurity, and skewed perceptions.”

Jayne Baron grew up in Western Michigan. After visiting family in Washington, her outdoorsy spirit persuaded a move to Bellingham. Growing up in a large family, Baron became close to her sister born with spina bifida occulta. Baron credits her sister for teaching her the “ability to have compassion towards people with differences.” She developed a need to help people, and, being artistic, art therapy became the ideal medium to achieve her life’s work.

Art therapy is a form of psychotherapy that involves creativity of all kinds such as music, writing, painting — anything that helps stimulate the brain in free expression. Baron has worked with many clients, both high-functioning and those with limited brain activity. Some have dementia or Alzheimer’s, others are ordinary adults who just want to tap into their creativity. Her art therapy business, Awaken Art, is on a mission to maximize everyone’s ability to be creative through painting.

A typical session with a client begins with sitting face-to-face, right in front of each other with knees practically touching. Many people find this closeness uncomfortable initially, but it helps in establishing a connection with one another. Baron furthers the connection by holding hands with her client, then swings them back and forth while singing a song. Holding hands helps make a physical and emotional connection, the singing awakens the brain, the swinging connects both hemispheres of the brain. Surely you’ve done something similar, perhaps as a child or as an adult with a child? It’s a common activity used in Brain Gym, an educational program that uses movements to facilitate learning.

Once warmed up, Baron pulls out a book of images and allows the client to choose one to duplicate. Then she helps choose colors, hold brushes, and anything else the client needs. The goal isn’t to recreate the image in identical form or to learn technical concepts of painting. The goal is to just be creative and paint. Through the process clients naturally learn self perception, coordination, awareness, and meaning. Every experience is different. Some clients are very detail oriented and painstakingly pay close attention to every brush stroke. Others enjoy the process, allowing emotions to take over and sometimes laughing or crying while putting brush to canvas.

Baron explained, “I’m just a vehicle for others’ to experience their creativity, and it’s like a metaphor for so many other things in life. Everything is a creative process in  a way, we forget that.”

The benefits of Baron’s work are life-changing to say the least. One of her clients lives in a retirement center. She’s painted numerous paintings with Baron, and this year the center is printing one of her paintings on their Christmas cards. Another client spent his days bedridden and watching TV until he met Baron. It only took a few months for him to have enough paintings to hold an art show. He sold his first painting that day, “He just radiated, ‘I am somebody now.’”

In honor of Jayne Baron’s work and her wonderful clients, we urge you to go and be creative right now. Pick up a paint brush, a pen, an instrument, whatever outlet you want.  Don’t worry about messing anything up, or the time a  teacher told you that you’ll never be an accomplished artist.  It’s important for everyone to let go of their fears and the assumptions that they lack creativity. Being creative is  important for the body, mind, spirit, and health. Go paint  the world with free expression.

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"The creative process is an excellent form of self diagnosis, bringing awareness to and working through our inhibitions, fears, brain fog, insecurity, and skewed perceptions"