Mental Health Benefits of Art Therapy

Learn about art therapy, the techniques and benefits involved, and where to find treatment in this informative article.

What Is Art Therapy?

Art therapy is the utilization of visual arts in a therapeutic setting. Art therapy is a form of psychotherapy that uses and promotes uninhibited self-expression through creative activities. This helps combat psychological ailments and improve overall mental health. There are various expressions and types of art therapy. Generally, art healing therapy sessions are carried out by qualified clinicians known as art therapists. These therapists practice in various settings with a wide range of clients to address emotional, creative, and spiritual needs and physical and mental health issues.
art therapy

Is Art Therapy Effective?

The effectiveness of art therapy is based on the premise that creative expression can promote healing and mental well-being. One study found that patients experienced relaxation, enjoyment, and enhanced self-awareness and learned how to find resolution under feelings of struggle.1

When Is it Used?

Art therapy is fundamentally valuable for providing relief and coping mechanisms for trauma victims or individuals with significant health or psychological conditions (e.g., traumatic brain injuries, autism, mental distress, and phobias). Research shows that art therapy can positively affect children with special needs and benefit children who experience traumatic events by reducing post-traumatic symptoms.2

Additionally, art therapy techniques are employed in psychotherapy to strengthen social skills, develop cognitive and sensory motor abilities, foster self-esteem, and cultivate emotional resilience.

What Art Therapy Can Help With

The primary goals of art therapy are to relieve stress, ease emotional and psychological distress, and enhance personal well-being and functionality. It can also complement conventional mental health treatments, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). By using brain imaging tests, one study found that individuals who participated in creating visual art displayed increased brain connectivity between the frontal and parietal cortices of the brain compared to those who participated in cognitively evaluating art.3

When is Art Therapy Especially Beneficial?

Art therapy can be used supplementary in the treatment and management of the following conditions:
  • Aging-related issues
  • Eating disorders
  • Emotional difficulties
  • Anxiety
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Cancer
  • Depression
  • Substance use disorder

Mental Health Benefits of Art Therapy

Experts in mental health are aware that there are many facets to human health and that integrated mental, social, or emotional measures can occasionally lead to positive health outcomes. For example, art therapy has been shown to improve mental health for those with depression.

Furthermore, research suggests that art in terms of sensory stimulation, exploration, and play can promote imagery formation, stimulating the brain’s sensory, emotional, and motor systems and encouraging new development. As a result, patients who suffer from organic or traumatic brain damage can benefit from art therapy.4

Additional Benefits

Other benefits of art therapy for mental health include:

  • Reduces symptoms of acute and chronic mental health conditions
  • Enhances ability to manage acute and chronic medical conditions
  • Improves cognitive and sensorimotor functions
  • Cultivates resilience
  • Strengthens social skills
  • Provides healthy self-expression
  • Helps work through stressful and traumatic events

Techniques Used in Art Therapy

Art therapy is utilized to encourage self-expression, learning of new coping mechanisms, and navigation of emotions. As a result, art therapists frequently integrate art therapy counseling sessions with artistic concepts, such as drawing therapy for depression and painting as therapy. All are brought together with clinical approaches to obtain the desired therapeutic efficacy. Typical techniques employed during art therapy include:
  • Collaging
  • Coloring
  • Doodling and scribbling
  • Drawing 
  • Finger painting
  • Painting 
  • Photography
  • Sculpting
  • Working with clay

Art Therapy vs. Expressive Arts Therapy

It can be challenging to differentiate between art therapy and expressive art therapy. Superficially, they may appear to be the same, especially considering that both modalities use comparable therapeutic strategies (e.g., instigating art therapy painting ideas) to ease mental and emotional distress. However, there are considerable differences between them. Although both expressive arts therapy and art therapy are grounded in the belief that the body and mind will naturally find a way to process and resolve some of their issues through artistic expression, expressive arts therapy is a multimodal therapy approach. It incorporates techniques from various artistic modalities, such as writing, dance, painting as therapy, sculpting, stage plays, and music. In contrast, art therapy is considered a single modality therapy approach primarily focusing on one specific art form: visual arts.

Limitations and Concerns of Art Therapy

Although many experts support the effectiveness of art healing therapy, some are still doubtful of its technique, particularly due to the lack of corroborating quantitative evidence to back art therapy psychology. In addition, while the purpose of art therapy aims to boost imagination, emotions, or perspective through art, not everyone feels inclined to cooperate fully with this treatment process. This may be due to low self-esteem or lacking confidence in individual artistic abilities. Other concerns and limitations with art therapy for mental health include the expense of purchasing art therapy tools, locating a suitable place for trauma art therapy activities, and scheduling sessions within a limited time frame. These issues add to frustrations and pressures, which are not indicative of a healthy emotional state.

Things to Consider Before Starting Art Therapy

Art healing therapy plays a significant role in mental health management, as it is widely acknowledged that art therapy techniques can help reduce psychological and emotional stress. Visual therapy supports non-verbal communication pathways and works to enhance cognitive performance, awareness, overall health, life quality, and interpersonal skills. When considering mental health art therapy, it is important to note that:

You Don't Have to Be Artistic

Despite common belief, it doesn’t take an artistic genius to explore the various types of art therapy. One of the goals of art therapy is to create a means of expression without worrying about the aesthetics of the results. 

It's Not the Same as an Art Class

While creating art is a part of art therapy methods, the relationship between art psychologists and their clients is intentional and private. This professional relationship is very different from the teacher-student relationships in art classes. Additionally, one of the numerous goals of art therapy is to promote expression and communication, in contrast to art classes, where the main objectives are to experiment or pick up new techniques.

Art Therapy Can Take Place in a Variety of Settings

Art therapy for mental illness is not restricted to a given setting, so individuals can practice it in diverse environments that encourage confidentiality. Art therapy for adults and kids can occur in art studios, community health centers, inpatient offices, schools, hospitals, residential treatment centers, etc.

Art Therapy Is Not for Everyone

While art is universal and the benefits of art therapy reach individuals of all ages, mental health art therapy is not for everyone as it is not always practical for all types of mental health conditions. 
art healing therapy

How To Get Started With Art Therapy

Mental health issues are real and widespread. Fortunately, they can be treated when the proper care is sought and received promptly. Therefore, when considering art therapy for depression, it is imperative to:

Seek a Trained Professional

The best referral sources are local mental health organizations or primary care physicians.

Call Your Health Insurance

Health insurance providers can provide a list of art therapy providers covered by your current plan.

Ask About Their Specialty

Asking about the therapist’s specialty is crucial because not all art therapists specialize in treating the same mental health issues. Get to know your art therapist better to ensure they are the right fit for you.

Know What to Expect

Knowing what to anticipate by learning as much as possible before enlisting art therapy methods is helpful. This often makes the entire process more engaging.

Be Prepared to Answer Questions About Your Art-Making Process

Art therapists routinely ask how the process feels as sessions go on to gauge and identify any positive developments. This can also provide a guide towards any necessary modifications along the way. 

Find Out More About Art Therapy at Essence Healthcare

Essence Health and Wellness is an innovative mental health treatment facility with various psychotherapy programs. These programs allow individuals to express their fears, disappointments, and frustrations openly, honestly, and without censorship to aid healing and wholeness. We offer art therapy sessions in a safe and welcoming setting to promote artistic expression and address any mental or physical health difficulties, including co-occurring disorders.

Get in touch with us at Essence Healthcare today for more information on art therapy and the programs we provide. 

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Questions About Treatment?

We are a patient-first substance abuse and mental health treatment facility located in Los Angeles, California. At Essence Healthcare, we provide different levels of care from detoxification to drug rehab aftercare. Our team is standing by to address your questions. Your call is confidential and no obligation is required.