• Art offers a chance to communicate, explore and understand your feelings and thoughts in a different way

  • Trishna Patnaik shares her own experience of art therapy and how she uses art every day to maintain a healthy mind

  • You can find art therapists on the welldoing.org directory – find yours here

Art has been used for millennia as a means of communication, self-expression, group interaction, and conflict resolution. Art has healing potential too. Art therapy can help children, adolescents and adults explore their emotions, improve their self-esteem, manage addictions, relieve stress, improve symptoms of anxiety and depression, and help cope with physical illness or disability. 

Art therapy involves the use of creative techniques such as drawing, painting, collage, colouring, or sculpting to help people express themselves and examine the psychological and emotional undertones in their art. With the guidance of an art therapist, you can 'decode' the messages in their work – the symbols and metaphors – which can lead to a better understanding of your feelings and behaviour so you can then understand and then resolve your deeper issues.

No artistic talent is necessary in order for art therapy to succeed, because the therapeutic process is not about the artistic value of the work, but rather about finding associations between the creative choices made and a client's inner mind. The artwork produced can be used as a tool to reawaken hidden memories and tell certain stories that may have otherwise been difficult to bring up. In many cases, art therapy can be used in conjunction with other psychotherapeutic techniques, such as group therapy or cognitive behavioural therapy.

Art therapy helped me work through my anxiety. Creating art has now become an everyday part of my life; having an artistic outlet enables me to nurture a holistic sense of wellness. All my feelings, the good, bad and ugly, are given the space they need to be expressed, without filters or needing to be refined. 

Here is how art therapy, or even a personal art practice at home, might help you:

1. It can improve your ability to manage your emotions and self-soothe 

Choosing to engage in a therapeutic artistic process means you are choosing to engage with what's going on for you. Making this time to self-care means you are giving yourself the chance to self-soothe and manage overwhelming emotions in a healthy way. If you choose to engage with this activity regularly, you will also give yourself a healthy sense of structure, which can be especially helpful if you feel low or apathetic. 

2. Art can improve your communication 

If you struggle to express your thoughts and emotions in words, you might find art therapy to be a real relief. 

3. It can aid recovery from past trauma

One of the symptoms of PTSD can take the form of flashbacks – difficult memories being triggered, often unexpectedly. Art therapy can offer you a safe space with a trained professional to work through traumatic memories. Through art, you can slowly begin to express your feelings and thoughts and take steps to move forward by letting go.

4. Art therapy can reduce levels of stress

Heavy daily demands can take a toll on one’s mind and body. Art therapy helps to convert negative energy into positive habits. This is something which I can identify with completely. Art therapy helped me deal with my stress levels, which in turn helped me deal with my anxiety in a constructive and efficient way. 

5. Encourages shifts in perspective and problem solving 

By opening the mind and being vulnerable through artistic expression, art therapy encourages people to find different ways of looking at the world and themselves, to seek smart solutions to problems and to build emotional and mental resilience. 

6. Creating art can boost your self-esteem

This might be particularly true for people who don't think they have any artistic talent. You might find you have more than you thought, and/or you might also find that you don't mind if you don't. This can help people with perfectionist tendencies relax and offer themselves more self-compassion. Self-esteem is important – people with more self-confidence are more likely to have fulfilling relationships and to keep up healthy habits. 

7. Art provides a positive distraction

Doing something artistic is mindful; it can calm the wondering mind by keeping it focused on a particular task. My experience has been that art therapy has helped me just 'be', in the present, and has given me relief from a busy mind.  

Further reading

How does art therapy work?

Why art and therapy complement one another

Bringing art to therapy and me to life

How can art and drama therapy help young people?