Arts and Crafts for Recovery
by Wendy Baker
It all started when I was horseback riding along a mountain trail. Suddenly a flock of birds flew out of the reeds. My horse took off, and I fell from his back and landed hard.

Several weeks later I was in the recreational-therapy room of a large, prestigious medical center. I had two broken legs and one broken arm, yet I was humming as I painted a desert scene onto a ceramic coffee cup. Sitting nearby a young man-the victim of a motorcycle crash-was making a necklace of beads and leather.

Why, you might ask, were hospital patients creating Arts and Crafts to help their recovery? The answer is simple. Arts and Crafts provide patients with the opportunity to relax and stop fighting their pain. It also allows them to feel a sense of pride and accomplishment in their creation, and it improves their fine motor skills.

Crafts can be done by anyone. They give the people who are creating them a common bond-something to talk about. Sometimes people even develop a meaningful life-long hobby after learning an art in a therapeutic environment.

Gayle Bluebird, coordinator of Altered States of the Arts, says [Arts and Crafts] has the ability to transform us. People faced with a life-threatening illness or adjusting to a traumatic disability have found solace, strength and affirmation by using the creative process to take an active role in their own healing.

Several recent books that emphasize healing through Arts and Crafts include Therapeutic Crafts: A Practical Approach, edited by Cindy Johnson; Arts and Crafts for the Elderly by Evelyn Lowman; and Crafts in Therapy and Rehabilitation by Margaret Drake.

Emily Kline, who works as a recreational therapist at a trauma-recovery center in Los Angeles, says that generally:

  • young children finger paint or color posters
  • older or more capable patients work with pre-cut wood and leather or do oil painting or watercolors
  • ceramics can be for any age or ability, using a kiln at a local school, community center, or company that makes ceramics
  • for the elderly, Geriatric Resources, Inc. has developed adult coloring books, scented stamp pads and dough-stampers

Few retailers sell Art and Crafts products for the purpose of recreational therapy or for rehabilitation, but at one time or another you or someone you know could be the unfortunate victim of a serious accident or illness. Promoting the therapeutic value of Arts and Crafts as gifts for ill or disabled family members and friends could increase the purchase of ordinary Arts and Crafts products by this large, socially useful market. Also, many Arts and Crafts products developed for ill or disabled people-such as those listed on, and also be enjoyed by healthy people and could be successfully marketed to both populations in Arts and Crafts stores and large toy stores.

The sense of pride and accomplishment that one feels after completing an Arts and Crafts project lasts a lifetime. The ceramic coffee cup that I made in the hospital sits on my desk and holds all my favorite pens. Seeing it everyday is reassurance that the accident is behind me, and it helps me to view that painful episode of my life with a calm perspective.

Wendy Baker is a freelance writer living in Burbank, California. In addition to Arts and Crafts, she also enjoys gardening, and is expecting a bumper crop of watermelons this summer.