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Art therapy is an integrative form of therapy that helps individuals heal through creative expression. It involves the use of different art forms and mediums to aid people in communication and exploring their experiences. Art therapy is used in various settings with individuals, couples, families, and groups to support people of all ages with mental health and physical conditions.
This article discusses the techniques and benefits of art therapy and provides insight on what to consider when seeking this type of therapy.
In art therapy, people can explore and express their thoughts, emotions, experiences, and perceptions of themselves through art. It provides a safe, nonjudgmental, and controlled environment where you can begin to grow and heal.
This type of therapy is often applied in settings like:
- Private practice
- Community-based programs
- Outpatient centers
- Nursing and rehabilitation centers
Art therapy supports people with conditions such as:
- Substance use
- Traumatic brain injury
- Various levels of cognitive impairment including dementia and Alzheimer's disease
Therapists may use and recommend many kinds of media and materials to help patients communicate and express themselves. Music, drama, dance, painting, and writing therapies are types of art therapy.
Some techniques used in art therapy include but are not limited to:
- Playing music
- Drawing or doodling
- Wood, copper, or metalwork
- Crafting, such as embroidery or knitting
Art Therapy Activities
A person can engage in creative activities at home. Examples of activities include:
- Writing about or creating a painting of a safe place
- Drawing a self-portrait
- Painting or drawing your mood
- Playing a song that mirrors your emotions
A review of multiple studies on the effectiveness of art therapy shows that it improves quality of life and a person's ability to manage psychological symptoms, medical and age-related conditions, daily challenges, stress, and burnout.
Art therapy is individually tailored to your needs and focuses on personal goals and well-being.
Some benefits of engaging in art therapy include:
- Reduces symptoms of acute and chronic mental health conditions
- Enhances ability to manage acute and chronic medical conditions
- Improves cognitive and sensorimotor functions
- Improves self-esteem and self-awareness
- Cultivates resilience
- Strengthens social skills
- Provides healthy self-expression
- Helps work through stressful and traumatic events
Another review on art therapy noted a study where people with depression saw improvement in social functioning after attending a painting group for three months. The same study also mentions an art therapy program that effectively reduced depression symptoms in people in prison.
These findings suggest that art therapy can benefit various populations by improving well-being.
What to Expect
As with any therapy, a therapist may start by conducting an evaluation, which will include learning about your psychiatric and medical history. Additionally, you and your healthcare provider will discuss concerns and goals, and decide together on a place to begin.
Throughout therapy, the patient and therapist may talk about what they are creating, their process, what comes to mind for them, what they are learning about themselves, and more.
No Art Experience Required
Contrary to popular belief, being artistic isn't required for art therapy. Instead, a therapist may suggest strategies to help people start examining their experiences.
There are a few things to consider when seeking art therapy:
- Find a professional who has education and training in art therapy. Art therapists have at least a Master's degree and have met the standards identified by the Art Therapy Credentials Board. Credentialed art therapists can be found on their website.
- Some insurance plans may cover art therapy. Checking with an insurance carrier can help locate therapists and determine coverage.
- Upon identifying potential providers, request a consultation. Ask questions about their background and training and how they work with patients.
- Before diving in, make sure it feels like a good fit. Part of this process may include sharing information about concerns to make sure their training aligns with your needs.
Incorporating aspects of dance, drama, music, writing, and more, art therapy supports people in managing mental health and medical conditions. Art therapy can help people learn to communicate effectively, express themselves, and heal. Finding a professional with specialized education and training in art therapy is a great first step.
A Word From Verywell
You don't have to be naturally artistic to utilize art therapy. Art therapy can provide you with activities to better understand yourself and how you relate to others and the world. It can be a creative way to help you find meaning and heal from daily stress, traumatic events, and conditions affecting your mental and physical well-being.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Does art therapy help with trauma?
Art therapy can help people process and heal from trauma. For example, a therapist might suggest integrating art therapy to help you express thoughts and feelings related to trauma. This often gives you the power to examine the trauma safely in a nonjudgmental way.
- Does art therapy actually work?
Yes. Research shows that art therapy can help people with mental health or medical conditions to improve their quality of life. Exploring inner experiences can help reduce symptoms and improve personal well-being and relationships. In addition, art therapy works well in conjunction with other forms of therapy, like cognitive behavioral therapy.
- How long does it take to see results from art therapy?
Each person's experience with art therapy is different. An art therapist will check in with you during sessions to talk about progress. While some may start to feel benefits sooner, others might take more time to explore what comes up for them as they create.