• shivani jha

A creative way of improving mental health (Art therapy)

Updated: Jan 16

Whether it’s creating music, writing or reading poetry, art is everywhere and everywhere is art.

Author Pat B. Allen in his book, “Art Is a Way of Knowing: A Guide to Self-Knowledge and Spiritual Fulfillment through Creativity” mentions that drawing things is a kind of lovemaking, so the subject should be chosen carefully.

When you make space for Art and mental health in life, it allows you to choose your favourite subject for inner peace and mindfulness.

What is Art therapy?

Art therapy is the fusion of art and psychology in which the individual self-explores his thoughts, feelings and emotions and communicates it through creative healing.

Besides this, the history of Art therapy is interesting. Initially coined by British artist Adrian Hill in (1942) when he came across the benefits of painting and drawing in people recovering from tuberculosis.

What It Involves

You must be pondering on how art can help anyone heal?

Well, it's a way of defining your little-known and confused emotions through art. After making an art, clients need to analyse it within the guidance of therapists. And then interpret the effects of art on their mood, energy and emotions.

In simple words, it’s expressing yourself through art for creative, mental and emotional wellbeing. There are different types of art therapy, some of them are mentioned below:

  • Painting

  • Drawing

  • Doodling

  • Sculpture

  • Collage

  • Writing, photography

  • Textiles

  • Music therapy

Using art as a medium to heal for mental health, anxiety, stress and traumas acts like a therapeutic relief for the soul.

There is a triangular relationship which helps to induce a cathartic emotion inside the body. This triangular relationship includes Client, Artwork and the Art therapists.

Talking about this approach, you don’t need to be picasso to feel creative. Here, the purpose of creating art is to gain insight of your feelings while translating it onto a paper.

Sitting down to make art is the key rather than honing every piece that you make.

How It Helps/benefits

A professional art therapist handles clients in these two ways: Psychology and Art. With their knowledge and experience, they hand you different practices and techniques, which help individuals to overcome various emotional traumas.

Art therapy works on two main areas - our mind and our body.

On Our body:

Art therapy requires all the senses: from touch, smell to sight and motion of an individual.

A therapist teaches you how to use these tools and be present in this moment. As per research , art therapy also involves kinesthetically and sensory experiences which is why people feel relaxed and calm in a therapy session.

This study was done to explore the patient's inner change and how it emerges during art therapy.

Without any surprise, the conclusion was that most people develop playful experimentation and exploration responses.

In simple words, they transition from always reacting emotionally to building self-awareness in themselves. It also helped in improving self-image, widening perspectives, and lastly, shooting-up ego-strength.

On Our mind:

Unlike talk therapy, art therapy is a non verbal communication that happens through visuals and art. It is clear that art therapy offers a way to conquer feelings like frustration, fear and loneliness.

Often simply accessing those memories which are untouched visuals in our minds.

While conducting art-therapy, both sides of our brains get activated.

Research shows that art therapy helps with bilateral integration, which means engaging both sides of the body in response to polarized beliefs or feelings in a coordinated way.

Last but not the least, art therapy accesses all the unraveling places where we are afraid to go.

What the Research Says

You may be convinced after reading 4-5 art therapy articles on the internet that art therapy for mental health is the best way to heal your emotions but it is always good to know the science side of art.

If there is valid research then there is criticism too.

The limitations were researched by Burleigh and Beutler who found various loopholes in the research. From a lack of any empirical evidence of art therapy to a lack of replicable treatments, objective data and clearly therapeutic problems, there were loopholes.

The research conducted in the art therapy field is debatable, since it was only based on case studies.

Ideologically, the art and science debate is seperated as black and white, which means more evidence is needed to blend them together.

What to Expect

Art therapy is not an instructional art class and you can expect all the things listed below in a normal art therapy class:

  • In a typical session you can expect some time talking, some time making art and sometime looking at what you made.

  • You will engage with different types of art media, for example chalk pastels, charcoal, crayon pencil, Graphite, lots of papers and markers.

  • No one judges you on the basis of your art.

  • You will find meaning in what you’ve created by your own hands.

  • You will learn positive coping skills.

  • A journey to self-awareness and self-discovery.

  • It varies from 50 min session to 1 hour, choose as per your convenience.

Where do Art therapists work?

Art therapists are not bound within a few career fields. They possess quality traits like being an active listener, having patience, empathy and ability to understand human psychology.

These qualities make them a perfect fit for numerous fields where they help people through creative art. They work mainly in places like:

  • Mental health Clinics and NGOs.

  • Hospitals and Medical Clinics.

  • Workshops in Schools, Colleges and Play schools.

  • Homeless and Domestic Violence shelters.

  • Art studios.

  • Art therapy for mental health organizations.

  • Residential treatment.

  • Personal clinics and practise sessions.

How to Find an Art Therapist

In India, people are skeptical about art therapy, so there isn’t a barrage of art therapists. It’s still a new concept for many.

Many general therapists can recommend you to go to an art therapist but you can also find certified art therapists at Directory of art therapists in India.

Also there are few art therapy centres who can help you deal with mental health issues.

A word from me

You may feel overwhelmed sometimes and think whether art therapy is best for your mental health or not.

And it’s normal to feel that way.

It can be hard at times to understand your own feelings but Art is the only way you can express it.

So, don’t hold back and add some colours to your emotions.

Bonus points

Best Art therapy books to start with. Youhjung is a New york based Art therapists. Check out her blog here to know more about Art therapy.