In short, art therapy is using art and creative media as a way to help an individual recover and heal from mental illness, trauma, or substance abuse. For over 100 years, the field of art therapy has been found to be effective in helping individuals explore and express feelings and improve overall wellbeing. Through creating art and discovering its meaning, the process of making art itself becomes the therapy. This unconventional approach assists those who don’t or can’t normally open up in traditional therapy or counseling sessions.
What Is Art Therapy?
Using elements found in Freudian and Jungian psychology, art therapy works on the premise that symbols and images hold meaning both consciously and unconsciously. These images represent an organic form of communication that can often speak volumes more than mere words. But speaking is also a relevant part to the therapy as well. Participants are encouraged to describe their work and through that, self-discovery happens.
Artistic media can be anything that a person can use to create art. This includes paint, markers, chalk or clay, among other things. By working with a chosen medium and creating art, a person has the opportunity to express himself in ways they otherwise may not be able to.
The goal for art therapy is not to diagnose or define a person and his condition.
The aim of art therapy to help a person discover meaning in his life and the art created.
The International Encyclopedia of Rehabilitation notes that the goal of the therapist is not to fix or cure the individual or to diagnose or interpret the art created. The therapist acts, in a way, as a conduit for communication and a facilitator for helping the individual to express himself by describing the art and any feelings associated with it.
Benefits of Art Therapy
Art therapy allows individual to self-direct his art and express emotions in a way that is constructive and productive, and through such practices, new connections, relationships and meanings can be made. Additionally, through this natural flow of discovery, a person can feel more confident in himself as well as how he relates to the community. This self-expression, or catharsis, is highly important, especially for persons who favor non-verbal communication.
The American Art Therapy Association (AATA) also shows that the practice has been helpful in the following ways:
- Increasing the individual’s self-awareness
- Increasing an individual’s self-esteem
- Managing behavioral problems and addictions
- Improving realistic perceptions
- Improving communication skills and expressing of emotions
- Reducing anxiety and depression
- Developing social and interpersonal skills
Who Is Helped by Art Therapy?
Studies have shown that art therapy can be very effective for a variety of conditions. Its benefits, as mentioned by the AATA, have helped those with medical, educational, developmental and social problems. In a study of veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), researchers found that using art therapy helped vets manage stress and improve physical symptoms of the disorder. As opposed to writing exercises, art therapy was found to reduce the intensity and frequency of nightmares, improve sleep, and reduce the startle response of awakening.
Schizophrenic and bipolar patients have also seen the benefits of art therapy. In a report issued by the British Medical Journal, art therapy was issued in weekly sessions for an average of one year. Participants in the study had a reduction in symptoms of schizophrenia, such as hallucinations and delusions, sustained for 24 months. A report in Psychology Today on bipolar individuals found that the changes in brain function during manic episodes are quite conducive to the creative process. In fact, it was noted that persons with mental illness often do share similarities to highly creative individuals.
Take for instance, the case of Sir Anthony Sher, a former cocaine addict. His interview in the British newspaper, the London Evening Standard, highlighted the advantages of art therapy to help with his substance addiction. After 20 years of cocaine abuse and addiction, Sher tried art therapy to help him with the struggle to get sober. Sher has since been clean for 13 years and still continues art therapy. He also noted that the practice has helped in other areas, like stage fright.
Considering Art Therapy?
Art therapy works excellently as a complementary element to a regular treatment plan. If you’re interested in considering other options to rehabilitation, call us. We offer a variety of alternative therapy choices to best suit your diverse needs. Each person, regardless of mental illness or substance abuse, has unique strengths, weaknesses and problems. The professionals at FRN understand that and can work with you to create an individualized plan for your treatment. Call us now to learn more about your options.
David W. Newton is a board certified pharmacist and also has been a board member for boards of examiners for the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy since 1983. His areas of expertise are primarily pharmaceuticals as well as cannabinoids. You can read an article about his expertise in CBD on the National Library of Medicine.