Art is all about drawing, playing, communicating, and intuiting. Numerous painters paint pictures to express emotions while their audiences let the world pass through the realm of their sensuality.

Indeed, the true essence of art lies in its imaginary and perceptible nature. It can range from symbols to images, having the power to deepen the inner world of human beings.

After all, art is a therapeutic remedy for the soul.

Whether you pick it up to simply create or merely observe it for leisure, art is a calming and therapeutic activity for many. But the perks of artistic expression go farther than just being enjoyable or relaxing.

In this blog, we will answer questions like “what is art therapy” and “how does art help mental health.” We will also look at different art therapy activities and the pros and cons of art therapy.

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What Is Art Therapy?

So, what is art therapy?

Art therapy can be defined in several ways, but the simplest is that it is an application of visual arts in a therapeutic context.

It is a holistic discipline influenced heavily by the mental health and hospitality professions. It is famous for treating emotional conflicts, raising self-esteem, developing self-awareness, exploring emotions, and improving social skills.

It uses creativity to enrich the lives of individuals, groups, and communities. Individuals suffering emotional and psychological challenges can take the help of art therapy to achieve personal wellbeing.

After all, art therapy is a practice rooted in the idea that creative expression can nurture emotional welfare and healing.

A mess of paints and colors
Art therapy is an integrative human service and mental health profession that can enrich millions’ of lives. It allows individuals to express their emotional and mental state without using words (Source: Pixabay)

Evolution Of Art Therapy

Since prehistoric times, people have relied on the arts to communicate and heal. Hence, here is how the discipline has morphed over time:

The Past

Until the 1940s, intellectual and sociological developments provided fresh ground for this new discipline.

That’s when the term “art therapy” was coined in 1942 by a famous British artist named Adrian Hill. He discovered the health benefits of drawing while recovering from tuberculosis.

Subsequently, evolving ideas about psychology, recognizing the unconscious, and growing acknowledgment of art to treat mental illness added to the discipline – leading art therapy to become an innovative mental health domain.

Doctors and medical professionals in the 1960s pointed out that mentally ill patients often express themselves through drawings or other art activities.

Hence, using art as therapy was formally recognized as a treatment for mental and psychological ailments.

The Present

Art therapy is now recognized to have the power to inspire individuals, develop compassion, and inculcate a personality. However, art also has the remarkable power to solve psychological, mental, and pedagogical problems.

Countless cultures and religions have incorporated art for thousands of years, producing sacred sculptures, paintings, idols, ornaments, and charms. Many of these treasures were intended for healing purposes.

The therapeutic art rituals of our ancient cultures from hundreds of years ago can be seen in African sculptures, Navajo sand paintings, and every other civilization.

Indeed, the arts have played a crucial role in human history as a means of communication, group interaction, self-expression, conflict resolution, and diagnosis.

Today, modern studies suggest art therapy is valuable for treating mental issues including depression, anxiety, phobias, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Simply put, it’s a great way to process complex feelings, express emotions without using any words, and seek relief. Furthermore, using art as therapy aims to cure and diagnose physiological and psychological disorders.

Visual Arts As A Cornerstone To Therapy

Art therapists are generally trained specialists with a master’s degree in assessment, development, and diagnosis of psychology, art therapy, counseling, disorders, and cultural competency.

Trained art therapists perform assessments on the patient, then tailor treatments to meet specific needs. So naturally, the art therapy experience differs from one person to another.

For instance, an autistic patient having communication difficulties would have different needs than a cancer survivor working on their medical trauma.

Undoubtedly, art therapy improves the quality of life by providing insights and cultivating self-awareness supporting human growth.

An abstract graffiti
By using art as therapy, patients can overcome their self-esteem, depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders. Art therapy has been proven effective in individuals needing help with self-discovery, self-esteem, emotional release, and stress (Source: Stockvault)
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How Does Art Therapy Work?

Art therapists use various art materials and activities to stimulate sensory responses that generate images directly connected to emotions.

It engages the human mind, body, and soul through integrative methods distinct from verbal therapy.

This process helps patients re-experience emotions and re-organize feelings to form a narrative around their sensations.

In addition, the sensory, kinesthetic, and symbolic opportunities invite alternative modes of expressive communication.

Once the patient crosses this stage, they will be able to express themselves in newfound ways, helping the patient communicate better.

Art therapy provides a safe outlet for individuals and children to relieve their emotions, have a sense of control over their lives, and understand themselves better.

During the process, individuals take themselves on a journey of self-discovery, helping them eradicate emotional roadblocks and learn effective communication mediums.

Ultimately, the goal of an art therapist is to gain trust, insights, and personal mental health status in order to derive individualized coping strategies – leading to improved functioning in their daily lifestyle.

The Pros Of Art Therapy

Art therapy has been proven to benefit people of all ages. In addition, a lot of research and studies indicate that using art as therapy enhances concentration and communication skills.

Furthermore, it reduces feelings of isolation, resulting in improved self-esteem, self-awareness, and confidence.

Art therapy applications can help treat a wide range of mental disorders and psychological distress.

It can work well as the primary or adjunctive treatment in conjunction with other psychological techniques.

Some mental issues that can be treated by using art as therapy are:

  • Anxiety
  • Cancer
  • Eating disorders
  • Addiction
  • Alzheimer’s and dementia
  • Autism
  • Emotional difficulties
  • ADD/ADHD
  • Learning disorders
  • Depression
  • Relationship issues
  • Psychosocial problems

According to a study published in the Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, less than an hour of creative activity can reduce stress.

This consequently has a positive effect on your mental health regardless of artistic talent or experience.

Their research concludes that creating artwork arouses dopamine, the chemical behind pleasure and happiness.

In short, art therapy helps with self-discovery, boosting self-esteem, emotional release, and dealing with stress.

Remember, you don’t need to be a talented artist to try art therapy. Humans are innately creative, and all you need for art therapy to be effective is, to be honest with yourself and your emotions.

It Helps Children Too

Art therapy allows children to express their feelings on any subject through numerous creative mediums other than verbal communication, making it the perfect treatment for kids.

In addition, providing a safe place to kids allows them to express their negative feelings and emotions, helping improve mental and physical wellbeing.

Indeed, children who have experienced emotional trauma, depression, physical violence, anxiety, or other psychological difficulties can benefit from expressing themselves creatively using different art therapy ideas.

This is especially true of children suffering from social and behavioral problems at school or home. They can release their stress using art.

Moreover, children with learning disabilities, brain injuries, and experience with a traumatic event can all take complete advantage of art therapy.

A little girl running away from a monstrous figure
Art therapy for children has been proven to be the most effective means of treatment. It provides a safe ground to express negative feelings and overcome emotional trauma, depression, physical violence, anxiety, or other psychological difficulties (Source: Stockvault)

It Can Be Done In Numerous Ways

Art therapy is good therapy – beneficial for all age groups of people.

But, one doesn’t necessarily need to visit a therapist to experience treatments. Numerous activities can help individuals cope with their mental illnesses and disorders.

With that said, the different art therapy ideas that can be conducted at home include:

  • Art journaling
  • Drawing collages
  • Clay sculpting
  • Finger painting
  • Photography
  • Doodling and scribbling
  • Coloring

It doesn’t matter what medium one chooses until and unless one is comfortable with it.

When a patient creates any form of art, it expresses their state of emotion, helping them explore their art while overcoming personal conflicts.

The Cons Of Art Therapy

Admittedly, as fantastic as art therapy can be, it also has potential disadvantages. Yes, you read it right, like all topics, there is a downside to using art therapy.

Remember, art therapy is not the same as attending a regular art class. Instead, it’s much more complex.

The goal of an art class is to come up with finished artwork for display. Conversely, art therapy’s purpose is to encourage an individual to communicate his imagination, feeling, or perception through art.

This might be intimidating for introverts who have difficulties opening before people they barely know. Also, when individuals have low self-esteem, they might think that art therapy isn’t for them or they aren’t talented enough.

Plus, art therapy is a gradual healing process where sessions follow schedules. These time-limited sessions may make patients frustrated if their art isn’t finished before the end.

These time constraints pressurize individuals to speed up their artwork, which is not representative of their emotional state.

Lastly, it’s quite costly to consult therapists and book sessions.

Art Therapy Near Me

Art therapists’ work is quite complex and vast, dealing with mental challenges.

For this reason, art therapists are needed in all aspects of their life. They work with individuals and even family groups in diverse settings. If you are looking for art therapy near me, check the following centers:

  • Schools
  • Veteran’s clinics
  • Hospitals
  • Crisis centers
  • Forensic institutions
  • Community clinics
  • Psychiatric and rehabilitation facilities
  • Senior communities
  • Mental health centers

Get Art Therapy From An Expert

Art therapy benefits individuals and children by improving their emotional, physical, and mental states. Since it has the power to enhance the quality of life, it’s advisable to consider receiving this support in some form or another.

To this end, it can take place in various settings; but sometimes, specialized equipment or media are required. Thus, finding a suitable environment might not be as easy as it sounds.

Moreover, some individuals can be flexible, but a proper workspace is required to get the best outcome during critical conditions.

Fortunately, Superprof is the largest online center for art therapy in America, committed to providing personalized therapeutic sessions.

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