How Does Art Therapy Work?
Art therapy can help with a range of mental health difficulties
Using creative tools in therapy can provide a way of expressing your struggles when words fail you
If you are interested in art therapy, start your search here
The connection between art, emotion and mental health is well known. Many artists paint from their emotional suffering; Van Gogh’s The Starry Night, for example, is an illustration of his inner conflict and suffering. Carl Jung was one of the first psychotherapists to explore art as therapeutic, he found the process powerful saying: “Had I left those images hidden in the emotions I might have been torn apart by them”.
Expressing your feelings and experiences using creative materials can be really powerful, particularly when addressing issues that are difficult to talk about. Conflicting and complex emotions can be expressed and explored in art form which can be impossible to do with words alone.
But there is more to art therapy than simply drawing your feelings. Art therapy is a non-verbal approach to understanding the self, thoughts and feelings that may be affecting behaviours. It can help with issues such as depression, anxiety, trauma, and grief but it can also help develop insight and self-awareness too. For example, one recent study found individuals felt their identity and self-image was strengthened and that they felt more positive (2016, Malchiodi).
Working with art in therapy doesn’t require any artistic talent or skills, and it can be used with clients of all ages individually, in couples and even in groups. Art counsellors and art therapists will often have a range of materials on offer, for example, pencils, paint, clay, collage and nowadays they may even have a digital art application.
The process of creating is an important part of therapy, it can activate a number of areas of the brain and help with evoking and processing emotion, whilst enabling clients to gain a deeper understanding of themselves and their issues. It can also help clients to engage with right brain thinking, which can often bring a fresh perspective to a problem or issue.
A picture paints a thousand words, and in therapy sometimes a drawing or painting can reveal much more, and at more emotional or psychologic depth than talking alone.