Benefits Of Art Therapy

  • Aysha femyMD in Pathology/Pathologist Assistant, Yenepoya University, India

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Art therapy is a form of healing where you can use the language of art to express your feelings and thoughts. It is a form of psychotherapy where you can use images, colours, and shapes as tools to communicate and express yourself better. No, you do not need to be an artist, because it isn’t about the result but it’s all about how you feel through the process.

Art therapy is like giving a voice to your emotions that are otherwise hard to express. In this article let us see how this form of creative expression can turn out to be a powerful tool of healing.

Art has been used as a way of self-expression and a tool of communication and healing for centuries. However, art as a form of therapy was adopted in the 1940s when doctors noticed how people with mental illness expressed themselves better with drawing and other forms of art. This form of expression could break the barrier of language limitations in communication and had excellent power to heal.

Overview of Art Therapy

In recent years mental health has become a serious public health problem. It contributes significantly to the social and economic burden on the healthcare system around the world. It is reported that over 50% of the people suffering from mental health problems do not receive the special mental health care they require.1,2

Mental health problems include minor anxiety to more serious forms of behavioural abnormalities.1,2

Different modalities and techniques used in art therapy

Art therapy is an alternative treatment method which has shown a significant positive impact on people with mental disorders and those dealing with stressful conditions. This artistic mode of improving mental health is not limited to paint and canvas but includes other forms of art as well such as:

Professional qualifications of art therapists

Art therapists are qualified and should have good knowledge of different forms of art. They should also know about human development, psychology and counselling strategies. 

Art therapists usually have at least a master's degree and are trained to help people navigate through the healing process. They are skilled in understanding what words can not express through the magic of creativity. In most countries, they are required to get a licence to practise ensuring they meet the professional requirements and standards set by the regulatory body of the country.4

A few places that provide art therapy are:

  • Community health centres
  • Centres that help people recover from substance abuse
  • Psychiatry and Neuroscience centres
  • Hospitals
  • Schools, Colleges and Universities
  • Art studios4

Benefits of art therapy

Depression and anxiety

Depression and anxiety disorders which are highly prevalent now are disabling conditions that can significantly reduce the quality of life. Though medications are commonly used in their treatment, several studies have observed that art therapy improved the symptoms among different population groups with anxiety and depression.

One study observed that painting could be a useful tool for patients to vent out their negative feelings and to express their anxiety and fear in a better way thereby improving their mood.2

Art therapy and dementia

Dementia is a condition that can affect a person’s memory, emotions, behaviour and thinking abilities, negatively impacting the quality of life. It is a progressive condition and therefore can get worse over time, making everyday activities challenging for the patient. 

Alzheimer’s disease is said to be the most common cause of dementia. Studies have shown that in patients with mild Alzheimer's disease, expressive activities like drawing, writing, and talking along with memory training and mental stimulation not only improved the quality of life but also had positive effects on their memory and well-being. So yes, art therapy may play a role in making life better for those dealing with Alzheimer's.1

However, some studies have observed that art therapy may be useful for patients with mild dementia and may not benefit patients with severe memory loss.2

Studies show that art therapy can also benefit patients with schizophrenia and autism spectrum disorder (ASD).2

Art therapy to boost self-esteem

A few researchers in a study observed a group of people who opted for art therapy. They were given creative activities like hat-making and decorating, painting, collage-making, photography etc. It was seen that initially, the participants in the study created artwork based on the instructions given to them but with time they were able to create their artwork that gave them a sense of achievement and boosted their self-esteem.1

Similarly, a study conducted on children observed that art therapy can enhance self-esteem even in children. In art therapy, there is no right or wrong way of doing art. Therefore, they tend to express themselves without the fear of being judged, helping them feel more confident about themselves. Art therapy also helps children become more aware of themselves and their surrounding environment. This is said to be another reason that gives them a strong sense of self-esteem.5

Art therapy and anger management

Anger can prevent one from thinking or behaving rationally. At the same time preventing someone from expressing their anger can only increase their pain and disappointment in themselves.

Art therapy may turn negative emotions into positive ones. In art therapy, one learns new skills like coping mechanisms and problem-solving skills. It also increases their sense of belonging and all of this contributes to an effective way of expressing difficult emotions like anger and aggression. Art therapy transforms destructive anger into constructive strength.5,6

Art therapy and stress

Stress can make you feel tired and burnt out. It can even weaken your immune system. We must learn to prevent or manage stress as it is known to be a risk factor for various medical conditions like heart diseases, depression, or anxiety disorders etc. Studies have shown that art therapy can help reduce stress hormones thereby reducing stress.7,8

People dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have also been seen to benefit from art therapy. This is very useful, especially for individuals who find it difficult to talk about traumatic events but prefer to convey it through art and help them in the process of healing.9

Art therapy and cancer

Studies have shown that art therapy may improve the quality of life in patients with cancer. It helped them shift their focus from cancer to other positive aspects of their life, making them feel more valuable and confident. 

Art therapy could give these patients a chance to communicate about their journey through chemotherapy. A study on women with cancer observed that these women experienced fewer physical symptoms and emotional distress when they engaged themselves in art therapy.10,11

Apart from these health conditions, art therapy has also been said to be useful in managing eating disorders like anorexia, and bulimia.3

Limitations of art therapy

Some individuals may refuse to participate in therapy sessions as they doubt their effectiveness or because they feel they are not creative enough or ‘good at art’ to reap its benefits.

Others who do participate in art therapy may give up sooner due to financial concerns, for example, the cost associated with buying the art supplies or attending multiple sessions.

Some might even find it challenging to attend all the sessions assigned to them before they experience any benefits.4

FAQs

What are the main benefits of art therapy?

Art therapy has several benefits. It can help you express emotions that are difficult to express verbally. It can also reduce stress and boost your self-esteem. Art therapy is also been seen to be effective in the treatment of mental health disorders. It is a holistic approach to mental and emotional well-being.

How does art therapy help trauma?

Studies have found art therapy to help people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Engaging in creative activities can promote a sense of control and empowerment which helps in their healing journey. It is like an alternative means of communication for those who find verbal expression challenging after experiencing trauma.

What age is art therapy good for?

Art therapy can be beneficial for individuals of all ages. It's a versatile therapeutic approach that can be adapted to meet the needs of various age groups.

Summary

The renowned artist Pablo Picasso once rightly said, “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”9 

Art has become a valuable tool in treating mental health problems and behavioural abnormalities. Unlike the traditional modes of treatment, art therapy engages your body, mind, and soul to express your feelings in a better way. 

Therefore art therapy has gained popularity in recent years, all thanks to its recovery-oriented and person-centred approach making it a holistic method for improving mental health.1

References

  1. Shukla A, Choudhari SG, Gaidhane AM, Quazi Syed Z. Role of Art Therapy in the Promotion of Mental Health: A Critical Review. Cureus [Internet]. [cited 2024 Jan 30]; 14(8):e28026. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9472646/.
  2. Hu J, Zhang J, Hu L, Yu H, Xu J. Art Therapy: A Complementary Treatment for Mental Disorders. Front Psychol [Internet]. 2021 [cited 2024 Jan 30]; 12:686005. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8397377/.
  3. Art Therapy [Internet]. [cited 2024 Jan 30]. Available from: https://www.goodtherapy.org/learn-about-therapy/types/art-therapy.
  4. outreach. Benefits of Art Therapy | How Art Therapy Helps Heal. Sage Neuroscience Center [Internet]. 2021 [cited 2024 Jan 30]. Available from: https://sageclinic.org/blog/healing-art-therapy/.
  5. Effects of Art Therapy on Anger and Self-esteem in Aggressive Children. Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences [Internet]. 2014 [cited 2024 Jan 31]; 113:111–7. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1877042814000172.
  6. Ahmad, N.S., Yusof, S.M. and Aman, R.C., 2020. Art Therapy Module in Male Adolescent Anger Management. Art Therapy, 14(8), pp.363-372. [Internet]. [date unknown]. Available from: https://www.ijicc.net/images/Vol_14/Iss_8/14812_Ahmad_2020_E1_R.pdf.
  7. outreach. How Art Can Help Relieve Stress. Sage Neuroscience Center [Internet]. 2021 [cited 2024 Jan 31]. Available from: https://sageclinic.org/blog/art-relieve-stress/.
  8. Martin L, Oepen R, Bauer K, Nottensteiner A, Mergheim K, Gruber H, et al. Creative Arts Interventions for Stress Management and Prevention—A Systematic Review. Behav Sci (Basel) [Internet]. 2018 [cited 2024 Jan 31]; 8(2):28. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5836011/.
  9. [Internet]. How art therapy has helped those with PTSD – PTSD UK; [cited 2024 Jan 31]. Available from: https://www.ptsduk.org/how-art-therapy-has-helped-those-with-ptsd/.
  10. Bosman JT, Bood ZM, Scherer-Rath M, Dörr H, Christophe N, Sprangers MAG, et al. The effects of art therapy on anxiety, depression, and quality of life in adults with cancer: a systematic literature review. Support Care Cancer [Internet]. 2021 [cited 2024 Jan 31]; 29(5):2289–98. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7981299/.
  11. [Internet]. 2020. Healing Through Art.; Available from: https://www.psychiatry.org/news-room/apa-blogs/healing-through-art.

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This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Aysha Femy

MD in Pathology/Pathologist Assistant, Yenepoya University, India

Dr. Aysha Femy, a dedicated pathologist and assistant professor at a leading medical school, excels in diagnostics and contributes to valuable academic research. Beyond her roles in teaching and research, Dr. Femy has honed her skills over the years, demonstrating versatility in crafting diverse content such as health blogs, case reports and research papers. Her writing encapsulates a perfect blend of expertise and enthusiasm, showcasing her unwavering commitment to demystifying medical complexities for a broader audience.

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