What Are The Benefits Of Art Therapy?
Art therapy, as the name suggests, is a form of therapy that uses the creative arts as part of therapeutic treatment for a wide range of psychological disorders, emotional issues, and other problems. The idea behind art therapy is that artistic expression allows people to explore their emotions and the way they view themselves from a new perspective.
But what exactly does art therapy involve, and what benefits does it offer? This guide will explain what art therapy is, who it can be useful for, and how it can address mental illness and psychological issues.
What is art therapy?
Art therapy is a type of creative therapy that combines artistic expression with psychological principles in order to provide psychological and emotional relief from a variety of issues. The American Art Therapy Association defines art therapy as:
“...an integrative mental health and human services profession that enriches the lives of individuals, families, and communities through active art-making, creative process, applied psychological theory, and human experience within a psychotherapeutic relationship.”
Simply put, art therapy aims to improve mental health and address psychological conditions using art as an expressive medium to explore thoughts, feelings, and memories.
The forms of Art Therapy
This can include many different art forms and participants may draw, paint, create sculptures, or use other artistic mediums as part of the healing process. Art therapy may also be used alongside other types of creative therapies, such as drama therapy or music therapy.
Art therapy vs. art as therapy
It’s important to note the difference between art therapy and art as therapy, however. The latter is something that anyone can do on their own.
Drawing, painting and other forms of art are widely recognized as having significant mental health benefits such as reducing anxiety, depression, and stress, as can be seen by the rising popularity of adult coloring books. However, artistic expression alone does not constitute true art therapy.
Art therapy should be designed, overseen, and guided by a trained, professional art therapist in order to provide the full benefits of art therapy treatment. Art therapists can use the art created by participants to guide discussion and reflection of psychological issues, helping to provide deeper psychological insight and healing.
Who can benefit from art therapy?
Art therapy can be beneficial for just about anyone, no matter their age or artistic ability. Both adults and children can benefit from art therapy in different ways.
Children often have less emotional intelligence than adults and have more limited language with which to express themselves, which can make it hard for them to understand and explain their thoughts and feelings. Art therapy provides them with a different, more accessible means of expression through creative processes, helping them to explore their emotions and understand them more effectively.
Adults, meanwhile, may suffer from all manner of complex emotional, behavioral, or psychological issues which can be difficult to unpack through words alone. Unresolved trauma or conflict, subconscious fears and doubts, and problems with self-image can all be explored using art therapy, with artistic expression providing a safe space to address these issues and come to a deeper understanding of them.
What Conditions can art therapy improve?
In terms of specific conditions or problems, art therapy can be beneficial in treating:
- Age-related cognitive issues, such as memory loss, loneliness, isolation, or depression.
- Anxiety disorder.
- Bipolar disorder.
- Emotional or psychological issues arising from serious medical conditions such as cancer.
- Severe stress disorders.
- Substance abuse or addiction.
- Family or relationship problems.
- Eating disorder or body image problems.
Expressive art therapy can help to treat all of these by using art to explore the thoughts, emotions, or trauma underpinning the specific issues involved, contributing to mental health recovery and emotional growth.
Art therapy benefits
Art therapy can be used to treat a wide range of mental disorders, psychological issues, or emotional problems. Often, it is used in coordination with other psychotherapy techniques such as talk therapy, group therapy, and cognitive behavior therapy.
Research into the exact effectiveness and benefits of art therapy is unfortunately fairly limited and fragmentary, with current literature exploring specific applications and groups as opposed to the discipline as a whole. However, scientific reviews have shown promising results for the relationship between art, healing, and public health.
1. Helping trauma
One scientific review found promising findings across studies into the effectiveness of art therapy. For example, one study in the review found that art therapy proved highly successful in helping adult trauma victims reduce the symptoms of their trauma, particularly depression.
Art therapy can be particularly useful for addressing unresolved trauma, such as sexual abuse, domestic abuse, or traumatic accidents. Art provides a safe space in which to express thoughts and feelings surrounding the trauma, as well as exploring how this trauma may manifest subconsciously.
This is why the art that the trauma sufferer produces can inform and guide conversations with a therapist, helping to create a deeper understanding of the issues surrounding personal trauma.
2. Cancer and quality of life
Another study noted by the review found that art therapy contributed to a significantly higher quality of life for patients in a cancer center. Art therapy helped the patients to address a variety of accompanying psychological and emotional issues related to cancer.
3. Reduces depressive symptoms
Another study involving older adults living in nursing homes found that residents benefitted from art therapy, with reduced depressive symptoms and increases in their self-esteem.
4. Improves cognitive functions
Furthermore, the AATA states that art therapy can be used “to improve cognitive and sensorimotor functions, foster self-esteem and self-awareness, cultivate emotional resilience, promote insight, enhance social skills, reduce and resolve conflicts and distress, and advance societal and ecological change.”
5. Develops social skills
Since art therapy often involves group therapy sessions, it can be highly beneficial in developing social skills. Group activities can encourage communication and cooperation, while the art projects themselves provide an opportunity for creative expression that may feel more comfortable than expressing themselves in a normal social environment.
This can be especially useful for children with learning disabilities, behavioral disorders, or social problems. Art can provide a more comfortable, informal environment in which they can learn to understand and express their emotions effectively and healthily.
6. Improves emotional intelligence
Alongside its ability to treat a variety of specific psychological disorders, art therapy also provides more general benefits in terms of understanding and articulating your own emotions. Art can provide a window into the way we feel, allowing an alternative perspective on thoughts and feelings that can feel too complex to address purely through words.
Creating and discussing art with an art therapist allows a clearer, more nuanced examination of whatever emotional issues you may face. It also allows healthy discussion of negative but perfectly normal emotions like grief, anger, and sadness.
Art therapy offers a whole host of benefits, using the healing power of art to communicate, understand, and address emotional issues which may be more difficult or complex to articulate just by talking about them. It can be helpful for both children and adults and contributes to a number of mental health benefits such as reduced stress, anxiety, and depression.
Furthermore, art therapy can be used to treat several specific psychological issues, helping people to overcome PTSD, addiction, eating disorders, and more. Alongside other forms of therapy, art therapy can be a powerful tool in coming to terms with complex psychological and emotional problems.
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