When you seek treatment for a mental health condition like depression or anxiety, there are several options available. Most people probably picture traditional talk therapy, in which they sit in an office and discuss their concerns with a counselor when they think about mental health treatment. While this may be the most common form of therapy, art therapy is an alternative to traditional talk therapy methods. In this article, learn about art therapy, including reasons you may benefit from this form of treatment.
What is art therapy?
Before diving into the specific benefits of art therapy, it is helpful to have an understanding of what this therapeutic modality entails. As the American Art Therapy Association explains, art therapy utilizes art-making and creative processes within the course of a therapeutic relationship to help both individuals and families improve their lives. Essentially, art therapy combines art and psychology to help people improve mental, emotional, and social functioning. Art therapists may also work with individuals who have chronic health conditions to help them cope with the challenges of their illness. Art therapy may be administered on an individual basis, or in a group therapy setting.
Art therapists are trained professionals, who hold master’s degrees and specific certifications. They have completed education in the classroom, in addition to gaining experience through supervised practicum. Because of their training in both art and psychology, art therapists are prepared to use art as a medium during therapy sessions. They can utilize creative processes, such as painting, drawing, and sculpting with clay, to help individuals and families to explore emotions, conflict, stressors, and communication issues.
Specific Benefits of Art Therapy
While many people do find traditional talk therapy sessions to be beneficial for mental and emotional wellbeing, art therapy comes with additional benefits beyond what you can gain from talk therapy on its own. If you’re exploring art therapy, consider the following reasons you may find this form of treatment to be effective.
Sometimes, it is challenging to share your deepest emotions with a therapist, but art therapy can make the process easier. Maybe you aren’t sure how to communicate what you’re feeling, and in this case, art therapy is a possible solution. By engaging the senses, art therapy helps you to express yourself differently than you can with words alone. Through interpreting your artwork, an art therapist may be able to help you uncover some of your emotions that you otherwise would have been unable to communicate. This allows for a deeper understanding and connection between you and your therapist.
Better Emotional Processing
It can be difficult to identify and understand your emotions, but art therapy can help. In a study involving patients with personality disorders, researchers writing for Frontiers in Psychology found that one of the main benefits of art therapy was that it helped patients to express their emotions. Art therapy was also beneficial for helping people to recognize and change their own feelings. If you are someone who struggles to express your emotions to others, or if you have a difficult time dealing with painful emotions, art therapy can give you the tools to manage emotions more effectively.
Greater Comfort with the Therapeutic Process
In some cases, people recognize that they would benefit from working with a therapist, but they worry about opening up to a stranger. They may also be uncomfortable with the process of going to therapy. If you are a little uneasy about seeking out the help of a therapist, the act of creating art while undergoing therapy may relieve some of your concerns. A recent study found that art therapists providing group therapy sessions felt that art-making increased group members’ level of trust in both the therapist and the process of group therapy. Creating art while undergoing a therapy session can ease some of your discomfort and make for more meaningful work.
Working with a talk therapist can help you to develop better skills for coping with stress in daily life, but the act of engaging in art therapy itself can be a form of stress reduction. A 2016 study in Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association found that a 45-minute session of art-making reduced levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Participants who engaged in an art-making session indicated that the activity was enjoyable, and they felt free from constraints. Attending regular art therapy sessions can become a form of stress relief.
Ability to Cope with Chronic Health Conditions
Therapy is often thought of as a tool for managing mental health symptoms, but art therapy is widely utilized, and effective, for treating people who live with physical health problems. A study involving patients with coronary artery disease found that art therapy improved their psychological functioning, as it reduced depression, anxiety, and anger and enhanced the ability to control anger. Art therapy sessions provide a modality for reducing some of the mental and emotional difficulties that can come along with living with a chronic medical condition.
The Bottom Line on Art Therapy
There are numerous reasons you may benefit from art therapy. Beyond these specific reasons, the bottom line is that art therapy works. A recent report in the journal Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice analyzed the results of 14 different studies involving both children and adults and concluded that art therapy was effective for managing both psychological and physical symptoms.
If you’re seeking therapy for a condition like depression or anxiety, or if you’re simply looking for professional guidance to help you manage issues like relationship problems or stress, art therapy comes with unique benefits. This modality provides you with the opportunity to communicate with your counselor in ways that may not be possible simply by sitting face-to-face and talking, and the act of creating art may make you more comfortable with the entire process.