How ‘Art Therapy’ Is Helping People Improve Their Mental Health

Most people think of therapy as sitting down and talking to a psychiatrist or counsellor about their problems.

There are actually many types of therapy available including techniques that use music, storytelling, role playing, and mindfulness.

One form of therapy that has been in the headlines a lot recently is Art Therapy.

Art therapy encourages a person to express to themselves creatively as a way to deal with past trauma or illness.

Participants can draw, paint, sculpt or use any other form of art to express themselves.

Art therapy can help people explore their emotions, reduce anxiety levels, resolve psychological issues, and increase self esteem.

It can even be used to help someone overcome an addiction or deal with physical pain.

When Did Art Therapy Originate?

The history of art therapy can be traced back to the 18th-Century when doctors gave psychiatric patients access to art supplies to express themselves.

They discovered that it helped some patients relax and the art they created could provide insight on their condition.

The term Art Therapy was coined by British artist Adrian Hill in 1942.

He had discovered the benefits of art therapy while recovering from tuberculosis.

He found creating art to be an engrossing experience that aided his recovery.

Hill went on to help other patients use art therapy.

Over subsequent decades researchers discovered that art therapy could help people recover from illnesses, deal with emotional conflict, and much more.

Who Can Benefit From Art Therapy?

The purpose of art therapy is to help a person heal mental, physical, or emotional damage.

It does so by helping a person:

  •   Express their emotions and improve their relationships
  •   Reconcile emotional conflicts
  •   Become more creative and self-confident
  •   Improve their self-awareness
  •   Reduce feelings of anxiousness, low self esteem or depression
  •   Manage their addictions and behaviour
  •   Take their mind off of the pain they are experiencing
  •   Adjust to a new body image after surgery or illness

Researchers have shown that art therapy is useful people experiencing:

Chronic or life threatening illnesses

People who have been diagnosed with a serious illness can benefit from art therapy.

It is useful for helping them process emotions, deal with physical changes, reduce anxiety, and take their mind off any pain or discomfort they are experiencing.

Additionally, many studies have found that art therapy can reduce feelings of distress and depression in people with serious health conditions like cancer.

Mental health problems

The symptoms of mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and addictions can be reduced through art therapy.

Art therapy helps by providing a creative outlet which a person can focus on, helping them to disrupt any repetitive or negative thoughts.

Relationship problems

Because art therapy can help people express their emotions, it is useful for dealing with relationship problems.

This includes issues like the death of a family member or breakdown of a relationship.

It can also be used to help process emotions after being abused or attacked.

Eating disorders

Art therapy provides people with an eating disorder with a creative outlet that helps them express their emotions.

It is a healthier coping mechanism compared to a destructive and harmful eating disorder.

Learning disabilities

Art therapy can even be useful for people with learning disabilities.

It provides a private and non-judgemental space where people with learning disabilities can express themselves.

It is also an excellent way for a person with a learning disability to understand their own feelings and be understood by others.

How Does Art Therapy Work?

Art therapy sessions are different from your typical art class.

Participants in an art therapy won’t be focussed on technical skills.

Their primary focus while creating art will be expressing their inner selves including their feelings, imagination, and perception.

Art therapy can be performed with a therapist or with a group of people.

Art therapy sessions usually last for about an hour.

In most cases, an art therapy sessions won’t involve any instructions on how to create a piece of art.

It will be completely up to the participant on how they should proceed.

This gives them complete freedom and control over the kind of artwork they wish to create.

The therapist is responsible for creating a safe environment for participants to fully express themselves in their art.

Having a safe space available is important as art therapy can sometimes bring up strong emotions.

Your therapist will be available to help you deal with any strong emotions that come up as you create your art works.

Any type of art can be used to perform art therapy, including digital art, photography, painting, drawing, sewing, printmaking, and sculpting.

Even colouring-in books are a useful tool for art therapy.

So why not give art therapy a try!

Talk to an art therapist to get started or watch this introductory video to learn more.

author: Stephen Coleclough

Stephen Coleclough is a leading international and domestic tax consultant who specialises in solving complex problems. As well as advising on tax matters, Stephen also enjoys exploring topics relating to physical and mental wellbeing. You can follow him on Twitter at SColeclough.


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