Art Therapy – How It Can Be Applied To Improve Mental Health and Well-Being

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Have you ever realized how relaxing listening to music or engaging in a hobby like painting can be after a long day? That is because it is very therapeutic. Did you know that there are professional art therapists who can help you interpret the feelings that you pour into your design, and even help work through and resolve problems? This article introduces readers into the world of art therapy and its magical benefits.

What is Art Therapy

Art therapy is an integrative mental health and social service profession that enriches the lives of individuals, families, and community through active artistic production, the creative process, applied psychological theory, and human experience within a psycho-therapeutic relationship. It uses the creative process of making art to help individuals explore their feelings, heal from trauma and express themselves in a new way.

History of Art Therapy

Art has been used as a means of communication, self-expression, group interaction, diagnosis and conflict resolution throughout history. Sacred paintings and symbols, as well as carved idols and pendants, have been used in the healing process for thousands of years by various civilizations and religions. Art therapy as a profession began in the middle of the 20th century, developing independently in English-speaking and European countries. Art had been used at the time for various reasons: communication, stimulating creativity in children and in religious contexts. Early art therapists who published accounts of their work recognized the influence of aesthetics, psychiatry, psychoanalysis, rehabilitation, early childhood education and arts education, to varying degrees, on their practices.

The term art therapy was coined in 1942, by the British artist Adrian Hill. He was recovering from tuberculosis in a sanatorium, when he discovered the therapeutic benefits of drawing and painting while convalescing. The “mother of art therapy,” Margaret Naumburg, held the opinion that children would develop more healthily if they were permitted to express themselves creatively and explore interests.

Another major contributor, Hanna Kwiatkowski, a gifted sculptor and artist discovered that drawing was a creative way for family members to express themselves and better understand their place and status in the family.

Other contributors include Edith Kramer, who proposed the more process-oriented art-as-therapy approach with goals of supporting the ego, helping the development of identity, and fostering growth, and Florence Cane, an art educator who used teaching methods emphasizing the importance of free artistic expression and encouraging emotional creativity. Elnor Ulman launched one of the first training programs in the field and founded the first art therapy journal in the United States.

Hospitals have begun researching the impact of the arts on patient care and discovered that those who participate in art programs had improved vital signs and have less sleep disruption. In hospitals, either viewing or making art aided in stabilizing vital signs, hastened the healing process, and generally gave patients a sense of hope and soul. Family, caregivers, medical professionals, and nurses are all benefited.

Common Misconceptions and Inaccurate Use of the Term

Lack of awareness about the concept of “art therapy” frequently leads to inaccurate use of the term. On occasion, non-art therapist professionals have been observed to offer their services as “art therapy” in advertisements. Professional training that grant a certificate upon completion and could mislead the participant into thinking they can practice art therapy are another situation where art therapy might be incorrectly classified. Attendees of these training, workshops, and similar events mistakenly believe that art therapy is a modality rather than a field of study.

Various products on the market might use the term “art therapy” incorrectly. Two such examples are art therapy apps and art therapy coloring books.  While using coloring books for leisure and self-care is advised, coloring activities must be distinguished from art therapy services delivered by a trained art therapist.

What do Art Therapists actually do?

Professionals with training in both art and therapy are known as art therapists. They are educated on psychological theories, clinical practice, spiritual, multicultural, and artistic traditions, as well as the therapeutic value of art. They also understand human growth. In colleges and universities, community centers, elementary and high schools, homeless and women’s shelters, hospitals, or private therapy offices, art therapists deal with people of all ages: singles, couples, families, groups, and communities. They have been taught to recognize the nonverbal cues and metaphors used to convey ideas that are typically hard to put into words but are frequently articulated through art and the creative process. Throughout this process, the individual really starts to understand the benefits of art therapy and the discoveries that can be achieved.

What Is the Difference Between Creative Visualization and Art Therapy?

Although they are not the same, art therapy and creative visualization are related.

Using their imagination to solve difficulties, people might use the concept of creative visualization. In the context of art therapy, it is frequently employed as a coping mechanism. The main distinction between creative visualization and art therapy is that the former doesn’t call for any special artistic abilities or supplies, while the latter requires.

How Art Therapy Works

An art therapist helps patients during a session to identify the issues troubling them. The client is then guided by the therapist to produce art that addresses the root of their problem. In a session, an art therapist might:

  • Describe the purpose of art therapy.
  • Inform clients that they don’t need to consider themselves to be creative or artistic to gain.
  • Assist the client in selecting and utilizing a media, such as painting, collage, sculpture, or sketching.
  • Help the customer express themselves via art by asking questions, typically.
  • Talk about the outcomes, including the artwork and the client’s experience.
  • Make plans for a subsequent session or for the client to work independently.

Art Therapy Techniques

Among the methods applied in art therapy are:

  • Collage
  • Coloring and drawing
  • Scribbling and doodling
  • Painting and finger painting
  • Photography
  • Sculpting and working with clay

As they create their work, clients can assess the feelings it arouses. People can look for themes and conflicts that may be influencing their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors by studying the themes and conflicts in their art.

Art-based assessments

Art-based evaluations are used by art therapists and other professionals to examine emotional, cognitive, and developmental issues. Here are some illustrations of art therapy evaluations:

  • Mandala Assessment Research Instrument – participants choose a card from a deck of mandalas (designs enclosed in a geometric shape) and a color from a set of colored cards. They then use an oil pastel in the color of their choice to draw the mandala from the selected card, and are asked to explain any meanings, experiences, or other information related to the mandala they drew.
  • House–Tree–Person the therapist asks the client to sketch a picture of a person, a tree, and a house before probing them with various questions about each.

Art Therapy versus Expressive Arts Therapy

As was already noted, painting, finger painting, drawing, sculpting, and carving are all common art therapy practices. It is regarded as a single modality therapy because it focuses solely on the visual arts. Because expressive arts therapy incorporates methods from numerous artistic genres, it is regarded as a multi-modal approach. An expressive arts therapist, for instance, may combine the therapeutic tenets and methods of poetry therapy (which encourages healing through expressive writing, such as journaling and therapeutic storytelling), dance, drama, and movement therapy (which uses nonverbal cues to assess and treat a patient’s condition by assisting people in expressing their feelings and developing interpersonal skills through storytelling and intentional improvisation), and music therapy (via songwriting exercises, lyric writing sessions, music performance opportunities), and even art therapy in the same session.

The outcome of the two strategies is another notable distinction: A tangible outcome from an art therapy session is likely to exist (such as a painting, drawing, or sculpture). The major forms of expression might be visual, tactile, or auditory because expressive arts therapy is not just for the visual arts. Depending on the technique employed, the end result may be tangible or intangible.

Why Art Therapy is Important For Your Mental Health?

A reduction in symptoms, an increase in self-awareness, and an improvement in mood and mental health are just a few of the many advantages of art therapy. Additionally, it is thought that the creative process fosters self-expression, emotional processing, and problem-solving abilities.

Because it enables people to express themselves freely without worrying about being judged or criticized, creativity is frequently seen as a therapeutic technique for many mental conditions.

A variety of mental diseases and psychological suffering can be treated through art therapy. It may frequently be used with other psychotherapy methods like cognitive behavioral therapy or group therapy (CBT). The following are a few conditions that art therapy may be used to treat:

  • Anxiety and depression
  • Eating disorders
  • Emotional challenges
  • Issues in the family or relationships
  • Stress
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Other medical and psychological difficulties

Who Should Consider Doing Art Therapy?

Participants in art therapy utilize their creations to communicate their feelings, find the words to describe how they have been affected, and to assist their overall well-being as well as any social, emotional, and mental health issues.

Adversity can affect our wellness when it touches our lives, however it may be challenging to describe the feeling. As a result, art therapists frequently have the ability to work with patients who have not had access to speech therapy. Art therapy contributes to ensuring that no one is left behind in this way.

People of all ages, including toddlers, teens, and adults, can benefit from art therapy. Participants do not need to have creative ability or exceptional talent. Art therapy places a greater emphasis on allowing patients to concentrate on their inner experience than art classes do on imparting technique or producing a particular end product. People can concentrate on their own perceptions, imaginations, and emotions when they are doing art. More than making something that is an expression of the outside world, clients are urged to make art that communicates their inner world.

You don’t have to be “afraid” to use art to express yourself. Although it may appear strange and out of the ordinary at first, this is usually because the person is not used to communicating through the arts. One of the most satisfying elements can be the creative process. You should eventually, if not right away, feel at ease using this new form of expression if you work with an art therapist. After all, producing a work of art of the highest caliber is not the only objective.

Can Art Therapy Cause Harm?

Like other types of therapy, art therapy has risks. Potentially harmful outcomes include:

  • Higher levels of anxiety or stress.
  • Expressing feelings without properly dealing with them.
  • Having trouble adjusting if therapy is abruptly stopped.

If art therapy is unsuccessful, the patient’s problems cannot be entirely resolved. This frequently makes the patient more distressed and might even make them resistant to other, more effective types of therapy.

Many patients are hesitant to try art therapy because they believe they need artistic ability for it to be helpful, view it as “arts and crafts” rather than a useful technique, or have other reasons why they don’t believe it can benefit them. Because of this, art therapy is less beneficial for these patients.

Why Should You Consider Art Therapy?

A qualified art therapist can effectively support both individual and relational treatment objectives as well as social issues through art therapy. It is used to increase social skills, advance societal and ecological transformation, foster self-esteem and self-awareness, cultivate emotional resilience, encourage insight, and boost cognitive and sensory-motor processes. Art therapists deal with people who are struggling with physical and mental health issues as well as those looking to grow emotionally, creatively, and spiritually while respecting each person’s values and beliefs. Art therapy uses integrative techniques to engage the mind, body, and spirit in ways that go beyond verbal expression alone. Alternative forms of receptive and expressive communication that can get around language’s constraints are encouraged by opportunities in the kinesthetic, sensory, perceptual, and symbolic domains. Visual and symbolic expression helps people transform themselves and their communities, as well as their society.

How to Begin Your Journey Into the World of Art Therapy?

If you wish to get started in art therapy, you should follow these steps:

  1. Find an expert in the field. A second art therapy certification and at least a master’s degree in psychology are requirements for trained art therapists.
  2. Reach out to your health insurance. Your health insurance might not cover art therapy, but there are some medical waivers that could assist pay for some of the sessions. If your therapist uses creative therapies and is a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist, your insurance may be more likely to pay for the sessions.
  3. Find out their areas of expertise. Not every type of mental illness is treated by every art therapist. Many focus on helping those who have experienced trauma or those who struggle with substance use issues, for instance.
  4. Know what to anticipate. Your art therapist will probably inquire about your health history, as well as your present issues and long-term objectives, during the first few sessions. Additionally, they might offer a few subjects to start delving into in your sculpture, painting, or other artistic endeavors.
  5. When questioned, be prepared to explain your creative process. You’ll probably be asked questions about your art and how it affects you as the sessions go on. For instance: What were your thoughts as you created the art? Did your mood change between when you began and when you finished? Have any recollections been evoked by the art?

Conclusion: The Importance of the Healing Power of Art

Some people consider art as a means of self-expression, while others see it as a type of therapy. Others use art to process traumatic events in their lives, while some use it to convey their emotions and thoughts. There are numerous ways to view art’s healing abilities, but what matters most is how it affects the people who experience it. The proverb “A picture is worth a thousand words” captures the potent impact that the arts and creative expression have on comprehension and communication in people. Since humans have used art as a form of expression for as long as we have, art therapy attempts to tap into that ability for therapeutic purposes.

Art therapy offers people with physical, emotional, and cognitive limitations new avenues for knowledge and self-expression, much as a painting or a piece of music can represent something in ways that nearly defy explanation. Even though coloring, drawing, painting, and playing music are very taboo in the adult world, we should disregard this social norm and discover how liberating it is to let our creativity run free.

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