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Confronting Loss After a Stroke: Utilizing Art to Process and Express Emotions

by Lauren Fallat, LPC LPAT ATR-BC

After surviving a stroke, many people experience grief and loss. These emotions can be triggered by physical changes in their bodies, as well as by changes to their daily routines and relationships. The emotional impact of stroke is a hidden side effect that many people don't talk about. But it's important to recognize these feelings so that you can cope with them and move forward with your recovery.

The experience of stroke can lead to an array of physical, mental and emotional symptoms. These can include but are not limited to:

• Fatigue

• Depression or sadness

• Anger or irritability

• Difficulty concentrating or remembering things

• Fear of death or dying

In the first few days following a stroke, it is not uncommon for people to experience denial or shock, which often results in anger or frustration when they are unable to perform activities they were able to do before their stroke. They may feel embarrassed by their inability to communicate effectively or participate in daily activities.

The emotional impact of surviving a stroke can be profound. In addition to the physical limitations that are often associated with this condition, survivors may experience a range of emotions and feelings related to the loss of abilities and independence. Facing new limitations and losing control over one's own life can be incredibly stressful.

Grief and loss after a stroke can be difficult to process and manage. Many aspects of life are suddenly changed, which might leave you feeling overwhelmed and uncertain about the future. There are several different types of losses that come up after surviving a stroke, such as the loss of physical capabilities, cognitive function, or social relationships. The physiological effects of a stroke can cause severe mental and emotional challenges, such as confusion, anger, depression, anxiety and guilt.

Art therapy can be utilized as adjunctive therapy for stroke survivors, especially those with impairments in their fine motor skills. It has been shown to improve attention and concentration, as well as reduce depression and anxiety. Art making is a creative outlet that allows people to express themselves freely in whatever way they choose.

By creating art, individuals who have had a stroke can tap into their creativity and feel empowered by their own abilities. Art making also encourages the use of both hemispheres of the brain simultaneously—a process called "hemispheric integration." This improves cognitive function and memory for stroke survivors who have had damage on one side of their brain.

Art can be used during all stages of recovery from a stroke—from the acute stage where someone is still recovering from their physical injuries, through rehabilitation and into post-rehabilitation when they are relearning how to walk or talk again. After a stroke, many people experience difficulty with cognitive tasks such as problem solving, memory, and focus. However, engaging in art activities can help improve these skills.

Art therapists use different techniques to make this happen, such as using drawing activities or working with paint or clay. Many times these activities are done with groups of other people who have had strokes, which is helpful because it helps create a sense of community and support for those who may be struggling with their recovery process.

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