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Craft Therapy Limitations: The Ways Craft Can’t Help Heal Mental Health

There are some craft therapy limitations. In other words, although crafting can heal us, it can’t solve all of our mental health issues.

I rarely talk about the limitations of craft therapy. I’m primarily interested in the benefits. However, I recently had the opportunity to converse on this issue a bit.

Student Research Into Craft as Therapy

As one of the few people who has done extensive and ongoing expert research into the health benefits of crochet, I frequently receive requests to be a primary resource for further study. In particular, students regularly reach out to me with questions for their research papers and dissertations.

I’m thrilled whenever I receive such a request because it means that more and more people are studying the true benefits of craft as therapy.

In discussing this issue with a student, recently, I was sent the following question:

“I am struggling to create a non-biased argument because I cannot find any negatives with craft therapy. Throughout your research and experience, have you come across any negatives against the uses of craft therapy? The only negative I can think of is if a person isn’t a hands-on individual, then perhaps craft cause a negative reaction?”

I thought I’d share some of my response with you here today to open up the conversation about craft therapy limitations.

Craft Therapy Limitations: The Learning Curve

In the question, the student touched on the big issue, which is the frustration of the learning curve. This is the biggest problem for a lot of folks.
People dealing with both depression and anxiety can get easily overwhelmed. Therefore, learning new crafts can just exacerbate the feelings of frustration, overwhelm, worthlessness, etc.
One of the reasons people have cited for liking crochet is due to its short learning curve.
Furthermore, you follow easy patterns and tutorials to make projects. For many people, this is easier than starting with a blank creative slate – for example, painting requires you to draw entirely on your own imagination whereas crochet lets you follow a simple tutorial.
Two ways to combat this potential limitation of craft therapy are:
  1. Re-engage with a craft that you’ve already learned in the past
  2. Choose a craft that you find easy to learn

Limitations of Craft Therapy and OCD

Another interesting negative comes into play for people with OCD.
OCD has obsessions (the thoughts) and compulsions (the repetitive behaviors done to get rid of the thoughts). For example, the obsession is germs, the compulsion is handwashing. A key part of treatment is learning to interrupt the compulsions, so even though you have the obsessions, you don’t act on them.
Crochet (or probably any craft, but of course this is what I’ve studied) is a great distraction activity for people to avoid their obsessions. A person can recognize that they’re having the obsession, then busy their hands and minds with yarn until the compulsion passes.
There’s a section on this condition in my book Crochet Saved My Life. What the book fails to cover is the potential drawback. I’ve since interviewed someone who explained that as much as crochet helps her – it can sometimes itself become wrapped up in the OCD. She’ll get obsessed with the counting (you count each stitch in crochet) and try to get to specific numbers (sort of a superstition type of thing). She will get very perfectionist, have trouble finishing something because she keeps trying to make it better, etc.

Isolation as a Limitation of Craft as Therapy

Another risk is the problem of isolation. Crafts can help a lot with providing a healthy outlet when you’re already isolating. However, there is the temptation to keep isolating because the crafts satisfy you enough.
For example, when I started crocheting I was very deep in depression – so deep that I had trouble leaving my house. I would sit there and ruminate and my symptoms would all get worse. Crochet was something I could do in my house, in my bed, without other people, and it helped break that rumination. It was very beneficial.
But there’s the temptation to just keep doing that and never get better and leave the house, right? So for me, it helped quell the worst of the symptoms, and helped me get back in a better place where I could start doing more, but I myself had to be motivated to do that. It’s easy to use crafting to isolate and not to get better.
Of course, there are ways around that. You can begin to craft with others – some substance programs, prisons, etc. have knitting and crochet groups, for example. Plus social media is a great middle ground for connecting with a friendly online craft community and getting support as you grow and get better.

Other Craft as Therapy Limitations

It’s worth mentioning that some crafts are cost-prohibitive to people on fixed income. Whereas a low-income person might be able to get affordable meds and even rehab, craft therapy isn’t going to be covered by insurance.
Some crafts have danger potential (the saws in woodworking for example). Therefore, they might not be ideal for people with suicidal/homocidal ideation. Anyone with tendencies to slip in and out of awareness should also be careful.
Some crafts are difficult for people who also have physical limitations/disabilities. They may need special tools to adapt and it can be harder to learn on your own. For example, a person who is blind or even one-handed can learn to crochet but most of the available lessons are designed for people with “normal” visual and coordination abilities. Therefore, figuring out how to learn could be a frustrating challenge that increases the feeling of “othering” among such individuals.

Craft as Therapy is Just One Tool in the Mental Health Toolbox

Finally, there’s only so much that craft can do. It is immensely beneficial, but it can’t solve all of your issues.
I always tell people that craft can’t fix everything but can be a really important tool in your toolbox. In my case, I needed medication and therapy. Additionally, I relied heavily on a support system and yoga to get me to a better place.
Craft could get my mind settled enough to be able to make healthy decisions to take those next steps. However, it couldn’t actually fix my mind without those other things in place. I feel like I wouldn’t have gotten better without it, but I also wouldn’t have gotten better with only it.
Join the conversation? What do you see as potential negative or limitations of craft as therapy?
Craft Therapy Limitations: The Ways Craft Can’t Help Heal Mental Health

Kathryn Vercillo

Kathryn Vercillo is a professional writer who also has a Masters in Psychological Studies. Her expertise is writing at the intersection of crafts and mental health. Kathryn is the author of several books on this topic including Crochet Saved My Life.


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APA Reference
Vercillo, K. (2019). Craft Therapy Limitations: The Ways Craft Can’t Help Heal Mental Health. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 26, 2019, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/crafting/2019/02/craft-therapy-limitations-the-ways-craft-cant-help-heal-mental-health/

 

Last updated: 24 Feb 2019
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