If you have been wondering what art therapy is, you’re not alone. Art therapy can help you deal with a wide range of emotional issues. The creative process, particularly art appreciation, can help you develop a greater sense of self and gain new coping mechanisms. By developing self-awareness, art appreciation can also help you cope with stress, boost your self-esteem, and improve social skills. During an art therapy session, you might be encouraged to analyze the art you created, looking for themes or motivations beyond what might have been obvious to you when making the piece.
Does art therapy sound like something you might benefit from?
Read on to find out more about what art therapy is, how it works, how it affects the brain, and why you should consider it as a way of promoting good mental health and cognitive performance.
What is art therapy?
For thousands of years, people have used art for therapeutic purposes. But art therapy is a relatively recent development. It was first described by an artist in the 1940s. Key thinkers of the field were drawn from the visual arts, education, and psychotherapy. Margaret Naumburg is considered the “mother of art therapy” and was influenced by the early 20th century’s wave of psychoanalytic theory. Naumburg believed that the creative process triggered unconscious thoughts, allowing them to be expressed.
Art therapists work with a wide variety of media and understand specific therapeutic applications for each type. They help clients select appropriate art forms, create pieces of artwork, interpret them, and often provide loose guidance to those who are self-directed. Art therapists are integrative and holistic. They understand that there are many ways to heal and find meaning in life. While art therapy may sound like a “fun” activity, it’s not a recreational activity or an art lesson.
Before you begin, however, you should ask your prospective art therapist about their philosophy and approach. Credentialed art therapists are sensitive to differences and cultural needs. While some practitioners follow a psychoanalytic model, others adhere to a medical model, focusing on pathology and strengths. This fundamental approach and clinical philosophy will influence the process, and it may spark additional discussion. So, when looking for an art therapist, you should keep these aspects in mind to make your first session as positive as possible.
What does art therapy involve?
While most people associate art therapy with creating beautiful works of arts, the role of an art therapist is much more diverse. An art therapist can help people deal with serious emotional and physical problems, as well as address conflict and personal growth. The process is beneficial to people of all ages, backgrounds, and belief systems. Listed below are some of the duties of an art therapist. They may also work with teams to provide treatment to clients.
First, patients visit an art therapist. A therapist will listen to their needs and concerns, and will design a plan tailored to the specific individual. Art therapy sessions can take as little as 60 minutes and last for a certain number of weeks or months. In some cases, insurance will even cover the whole cost of art therapy sessions. Some cancer hospitals and centers offer free art therapy. To learn more, contact your local cancer center for information on art therapy for cancer patients.
Art therapists use creative processes to assess clients and help them express their feelings and memories. They also help patients build narratives about overwhelming experiences. These narratives help people process their feelings and allow for communication to develop. In general, art therapists aim to help clients gain personal insight, increase their self-esteem, and improve their quality of life. They are trained to work with all ages and backgrounds. So what does art therapy involve?
What are the 4 types of art therapy?
Using art as a means to help deal with difficult feelings and thoughts, art therapy can improve a number of conditions. For example, children who are suffering from cancer can find the process to be helpful in reducing symptoms, and it can also help with learning problems and depression. The boundaries that surround a creative project can help a person express strong feelings in a productive manner. Ultimately, this can help to relieve stress, calm worries and build endurance.
The first session in art therapy involves learning what the therapist offers and creating a treatment plan. The client creates art pieces and the therapist asks questions related to their feelings while working on the piece. The art therapist can then help the client to decode what the art represents. The sessions will generally last between one and four hours. The first session typically involves making a collage or painting of some kind. The therapist will usually ask questions to help the client work through their feelings.
Using art as a therapy tool is an excellent way to increase self-awareness and improve your self-esteem. Art therapists are master-level clinicians who specialize in a variety of conditions. This type of treatment is effective for a range of ailments and is also beneficial as an adjunctive therapy. Art therapists are trained to work with patients from all age groups and backgrounds. Depending on the nature of their practice, they may work with clients suffering from trauma or mental health issues.
How does art therapy work on the brain?
A recent study examined the relationship between brainwaves associated with creative processes, such as the use of art, and psychological outcomes. In art psychotherapy, creativity is often used to promote self-expression and communication. A 2017 study measured the blood flow in the reward system of the brain while participants engaged in creative art making. Participants exhibited significant increases in the blood flow to the prefrontal cortex, a region of the brain that controls motivation and emotion.
Research shows that art therapy activates both hemispheres of the brain. Because it engages both hemispheres, it can promote neural integration, stress reduction, and problem-solving. The therapeutic process also involves physical engagement, as art involves a client engaging with their body. Moreover, this therapy can promote the development of new connections between the mind and body. Ultimately, this type of therapy has several benefits for mental health.
One study examined children’s drawings in combination with clinical notes, and found correlations between specific images and the levels of anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress in the participants. The results were similar to the previous study. This suggests that art therapy helps the brain integrate visual and sensory aspects of traumatic memories. This process helps the brain regulate its response to a wide range of traumatic experiences. The process also promotes healing.
Can I do art therapy at home?
Art therapy can be done in many ways, and one of the most effective ways to do it is from the comfort of your own home. You do not need to have artistic talent to benefit from art therapy. However, it may feel strange at first, because you are not used to communicating through the arts. Once you get used to the process, however, you will feel more comfortable with it. It is important to note that the goal of art therapy is not to create a masterpiece. Rather, the goal of art therapy is to help people heal from emotional pain through creative expression.
The process itself is therapeutic. Art therapy can help people who are struggling with mild forms of stress and anxiety. It can help you understand your own emotions better and create a more satisfying, productive environment for yourself. It is a wonderful way to de-stress. Taking your time to create something beautiful is also therapeutic. And it can also help you cope with the difficulties that come with anxiety and depression. Ultimately, art therapy can help you better understand your own feelings and how to deal with them.
An art therapist uses a variety of art methods to help their clients. The therapy process can be silent or interactive, but either way, the purpose is the same. Art therapists guide group discussions, offering therapeutic interventions verbally and within the art process. While participants are working on their projects, the therapist may focus on one or two themes that have come up throughout the process. It’s not unusual for people to have a variety of themes during their sessions.
Who uses art therapy?
The field of expressive arts is growing. It’s a growing profession, with more people taking advantage of the benefits that come with it. Art therapy can help you sort through difficult memories and process your emotions. Compared to talking with a therapist, art therapy may be less intimidating. It doesn’t involve a paint-and-pours party; instead, you sit with a mental health professional, who digs deep into your feelings and memories.
The benefits of art therapy extend far beyond its use for mental health. In fact, art therapy has been used to help survivors of child sexual abuse, human trafficking, and other human trafficking. The art t herapists who work with trafficking victims describe it as “good exercise for the brain” and “a road map for a woman’s life.” The survivors of trafficking reproduce the most significant events in their lives through imagery, using symbols such as flowers or butterflies. These symbols serve as benchmarks for further sessions of art therapy.
A qualified art therapist is knowledgeable about psychology, human development, and clinical practice. They also have a background in spiritual and multicultural traditions. Art therapists are skilled at integrating art into therapy, enhancing the patient’s cognitive abilities and feelings. They often work with people of all ages, and in hospitals, mental health institutions, rehabilitation centers, and schools. They may also work in community outreach programs or with forensic institutions.
Proven Benefits of Art Therapy
There are many proven benefits of art therapy. To date dozens of clinical trials have gone beyond patient reports and looked directly at the effect that expressive therapy has on the brain. What they have invariably found is that artistic engagement has a profound effect on our neurochemistry.
One broad meta-analysis looked at 413 good quality studies conducted on art therapy (specifically drawing and painting) and mental disorders. The researchers found that in the overwhelming majority of cases, significant improvements in mental wellbeing were observed following art therapy:
“After carefully reading full articles, we found that art therapy has been gradually and successfully used for patients with mental disorders with positive outcomes, mainly reducing suffering from mental symptoms. These disorders mainly include depression disorders and anxiety, cognitive impairment and dementias, Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia, and autism.”
We will now go through some of the specific benefits of art therapy and expressive therapy more broadly as identified by scientific study.
Artistic expression and engagement with art have been prescribed as treatments for depression and low mood for a very long time. For about as long as art has existed we have used it to purge our emotions, deal with grief, and cope with sadness. But in the last few years cognitive neuroscience has taken a great interest in art therapy, and we hnow know for certain that art can dramatically improve our mood and even help fight the symptoms of depression. Symptoms of major depressive disorder include lethargy, feelings of hopelessness, severely low mood, loss of appetite and insomnia; if you experience any of these, seek help immediately.
One randomized, controlled, and single-blind study published in 2018 found that painting as an adjuvant treatment for depression can reduce depressive and anxiety symptoms. Another trial published in 2011 found art therapy to be equally effective for broad depression symptoms treatment. Researchers conducted group painting therapy on 30 patients with depression for 3 months, and found that painting therapy could promote their social function recovery, improve their social adaptability and quality of life.
Just as art therapy has been found to be effective for treating depressive symptoms, so has it proven extremely beneficial for treating anxiety. Study after study finds that structured expressive therapioes including painting, drawing, music and drama sessions can drastically lower reported anxiety levels in both young and old people struggling with severe anxiety disorders and chronic stress. Researchers in the field of cognitive neuroscience have observed significant changes in brain electrical activity and brain chemistry following guided art therapy sessions. These changes have been coupled with notable reported declines in feelings of stress and anxiety among participants.
This wont come as a surprise to most of you, but art therapy can actually help you become more creative. This makes sense intuitively, but we now have hard scientific data from studies proving that expressive therapy techniques can genuinely make people more creative. The connection between therapy and creativity has long been established, but recent evidence suggests that focused, guided therapy sessions involving artistic expression can make people more creative more broadly, with benefits lasting long after the therapy session is over.
Cognitive Decline & Cognitive Performance
This is a relatively untapped area of research within psychology, but the data we do have suggests that art can be a powerful tool in the fight against age-related cognitive decline. There is even some evidence that focused art therapy sessions might help with the treatment of serious cases of cognitive decline and diseases such as dementia or Alzheimer’s.
In one widely-cited study, researchers found that art therapy sessions correlated with massive improvements in cognitive performance among older people living with various stages of cognitive decline. Another notable study showed that you can achieve dramatic improvements in memory function in older people with mild cognitive impairment through painting therapy sessions (source).
Other Natural Techniques to Promote Mental Health & Cognitive Performance
Cognitive neuroscience has robustly proven that art therapy works to improve a range of different measures of mental wellbeing, performance and health. Anyone struggling with anxiety, depression or poor cognitive function stands to benefit enormously from employing the techniques of art therapy on a regular basis.
Of course, art therapy is not the only way to reduce anxiety and improve your memory. There are dozens of ways you can improve your mood, focus, motivation, creativity, processing speeds, memory function and energy levels by yourself without the help of therapy.
One way is to utilize nootropics.
Using Nootropics to Boost Mood, Creativity & Cognitive Function
Many of the benefits of art therapy can be achieved with the use of nootropic agents. Nootropics are a very particular class of substances defined by their ability to ehance one or more aspects of brain function. You can use nootropics to improve very specific facets of cognition – such as information processing speeds – or you can use them to support overall brain health across decades. How you use them depends entirely on what you want to achieve.
For the vast majority of people, nootropics are substances that improve executive cognitive functions. These include:
- Working memory
- Information processing
- Reaction times
- Mental energy
- Verbal fluidity
However, viewing nootropics as merely a tool to improve productivity and executive cognitive function is a mistake. The truth is that nootropics can help with a vast array of brain functions, many of which we may not even think of as brain functions at all. The right nootropics can improve creativity, fight depression and anxiety, boost confidence, and safeguard your brain cells from damage.
If the use of herbs, nutraceuticals and pharmacueticals to change how your mind works is a new concept to you, we strongly recommend reading some of the resources on this website to find out more. Nootropics can have as profound and lasting an impact on your mental health and cognitive performance as established psychological interventions, including traditional talking therapies and pharmaceutical drugs. Here are some of our most read blog posts to get you started:
- Best Nootropics For Creativity (2023)
- Does Modafinil make you creative?
- Does Lion’s Mane Increase Creativity?
- Does Noopept Boost Creativity?
- What Part Of The Brain Is Used For Art?
- Can art relieve stress?
- Does drawing help with ADHD?
- Is Art Therapy Good For PTSD?
- ADHD and Creativity: Is there a link?
- Does art release dopamine?