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What is Art Therapy

and its magical benefits

Joseph Marsh
Joseph Marsh

Gay, Writer, Poet, Hobbyist

Table of Contents

For years art has been viewed as one of the purest expressions of human emotions. It makes sense then, that researchers have looked to the therapeutic nature of creation to promote mental and emotional wellbeing, as well as to help those with deeper problems. 

It’s very easy to get overwhelmed by the myriad stresses that this hectic world forces onto us; art therapy is a perfect way to deal with them. But what is art therapy? 

Let’s break it down.

Art Therapy, What is it?

If you’ve ever seen a horror movie where a little kid is asked to draw what they’ve been dreaming about, then you might already have a decent image of art therapy. Essentially, it’s a form of psychotherapy where art is the primary mode of communication. Artistry is used as a medium to explore feelings – distressing, complicated, and joyful. It’s rooted in the idea that creativity can foster healing and mental well-being.  Art is a tool to help release the troubles and emotions that have been afflicting us.

Art therapy comes in many shapes and forms, as individual or group sessions, therapists use varying forms of art like sketching, painting, and sculpture. Though these sessions can be enjoyable, it differs from a recreational art lesson in that we’ll be guided into a more introspective mindset, helping us look deeper into our emotional state to inform our artwork.

What are the Benefits?

As little as an hour of creative activity can significantly reduce stress and have a positive effect on mental health, as published in 2016 study published in The Journal of the American Art Therapy Association. Even if you’re not the next Picasso.

Art therapy is especially useful for those who are healing from trauma. Physical abuse, violence, anxiety, depression and many other psychological issues can be helped by art therapy. These things can be difficult to make sense of and put into words, by going into a creative mindset we allow our subconscious to do the processing for us.

This is not to say that such trauma is necessary in order to use art therapy. Being creative helps with all sorts of stresses and worries. Even if it’s something as simple as a bad day at work, any reason for seeking art therapy is valid and worthy of respect.

Art therapy is also good for those with mental disabilities who find it difficult to communicate. The mind is a complex muscle, just because one part of it may not function as well as it should it does not mean that others don’t. By providing an avenue for creativity and self-expression, many people who find it hard to communicate experience catharsis in being able to release their thoughts and emotions into the world.

Why Art Therapy?

Beyond the mode and method, we may wonder “How is art therapy different to normal therapy? And why would I choose it over a more traditional approach?”

What it’s important to remember is, that traditional forms of therapy and art therapy serve different functions and choosing to pursue one does not necessarily erase the option of pursuing the other. Art therapy is primarily a treatment form of therapy. Whereas traditional therapy seeks to diagnose, art therapy is chiefly trying to help face and overcome issues. Many people undertake art therapy in conjunction with other psychotherapy techniques.


Is Art Therapy Done Alone?

The beauty of art therapy is in its flexibility. It can be done on a one-to-one basis, or in a group, at home, in an art studio, at community centres, or even outside!

Art therapy is not an art lesson, there is no pressure to be a talented artist to partake. We’re trying to improve well-being, not start an art gallery after all! 

The focus is entirely on providing a space to vent any pressures and stresses. In art therapy, we’ll be encouraged to create representations of our inner world rather than the outer world. Introspection is of more importance than technique during art therapy. As long as the creation helps process the artist’s emotions and brings them to a healthier mindset, then it is good art.

What can I expect?

Every art therapy session is going to be different. No two minds are alike and what works for one person may be no use to another. Furthermore, the type of art that we partake in may be dependent on the form that our counsellor is most familiar with. Many art therapists are artists themselves and therefore may lean towards certain mediums. That said, here’s a basic idea of what to expect:

  • During the first session, the therapist will typically guide us through the different materials available. i.e, paints, pencils, clay, and pastels.
  • Some start by making art before reflecting on the piece, to try and analyse their thought process after.
  • Others will work toward a certain theme identified with the therapist at the start of the session.

It’s entirely up to us how we want our art therapy session to proceed. Though, if the thought of such freedom causes anxiety, the therapist will be more than happy to act as a guide. Whether it’s a basic sketch, a few lines of poetry, or a full-on sculpture, as long as it achieves our goals, then the session will be successful. It’s entirely up to us how much time we need to be creative to process everything we need to.

Where do I get involved?

Made it this far? If you’re interested in pursuing art therapy further, why not take a look at our network of therapists eager to support you. Our wellbeing services aren’t limited to art therapy so if you try it and don’t feel it’s for you you’re more than welcome to try one of our many other sessions. There’s no shame in deciding you want to try something else, the best way to encourage well-being and improve mental health is by finding an avenue you feel helps you.

While yoga has been shown to help with mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety, it is important to remember that these benefits are supplementary to any medical or psychological treatment, and do not replace them.

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