Art Therapy: (noun) 1. a form of psychotherapy involving the encouragement of free self-expression through painting, drawing, or modeling, used as a remedial activity or an aid to diagnosis.
A hybrid field influenced by the merging of psychology and art, art therapy is not about becoming the next great sculptor, but about finding the meaning and connection in your feelings and surroundings. People have been relying on art to communicate, inspire, and heal since the beginning of time. Most cultures and religions continue to use carved idols, sacred paintings, and symbols in healing rituals and processes. So why is art-making not more frequently seen as a form of therapy? It has been formally studied, recognized and applied since the mid 20th century, but in recent times, art has been attached to a certain stigma: “if you’re not an artist you can’t make art.”
The goal of art therapy is not producing artistic masterpieces, but expressing and releasing one’s thoughts and emotions healthily. The process of creating art can take you on a self-discovering voyage that will assist in communicating with yourself and with others, as well as getting rid of emotional roadblocks. Art creation is a catharsis for people and helps them let go of emotions they hold within themselves.
Art therapy helps people acknowledge often ignored deep-rooted feelings. It also gives a sense of accomplishment, which translates to a self-esteem boost. It helps with anxiety, depression and/or emotional trauma, but the greatest benefit of all? Having a healthy outlet for expression and projecting all feelings and fears onto a canvas.
Art-making allows expression when words fail. It’s especially advantageous for those who are experiencing depersonalization (feeling out of touch) with their emotions and/or daily lives. Individuals experiencing difficulty recalling traumatic experiences may also find art therapy beneficial.
Research studies have shown art therapy leads to improvement in communication, concentration and reducing feelings of isolation. Studies also revealed that the action of creating art stimulates dopamine release. This chemical in our brain is released when we do something pleasant, making us instantly happier. Flooding the brain with this “feel-good” neurotransmitter is proven to be beneficial for anxiety and/or depression.
Art creation builds a sense of competency and control within a person. Positive results in art therapy may often be achieved by those facing issues such as: anxiety, depression, addiction, PTSD, stress, ADHD, cancer, compassion fatigue, heart disease, eating disorders, cognitive impairments, sexual assault trauma and family or relationship issues.
An art-in-medicine study was done and results showed that chronically ill people that practiced art making reported better health and well-being, and people with breast cancer have reported a decrease in negative emotions and pain and an increase in positive emotions. Additionally, highly-involved patients undergoing hemodialysis treatment (which is known to cause long-term depression, weight gain, high stress and other complications) reported reduced depression, weight loss, reduced bodily pains and higher social function when they created art. People affected by trauma have reported lower levels of stress, less compassion fatigue, and an increased sense of purpose.
Art therapists hold a master’s degree or higher, and work to help individuals, groups, and communities become more in touch with themselves. Art therapy has become a fundamental addition to rehabilitation centers, mental health facilities, crisis centers, schools, and other social and community establishments that aim to boost health, wellness, and growth.
Many people incorporate art therapy in their healing process, including well-known celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow, J.K. Rowling and Emma Thompson. Famous artists such as Van Gogh, Louise Bourgeois and Tracey Emin were known for using art as a catharsis for their inner turmoil and pain. Van Gogh used art to manage his mental illness and debilitating lifelong depression, Bourgeois used art as a way to escape the trauma of having an overbearing, philandering father. Emin, who was raped at the age of 13 and suffered long bouts of depression, expressed her traumatic life experiences through her art.
Check out art therapy centers in your area. There are many studios in New York City run by professional and licensed art therapists. Studio Blue: Creative Arts Therapy is run by Daniel Blausey, a renowned and licensed psychologist and art therapist. Run by a team of all women, Water & Stone, a Creative Arts Therapy PLLC offers not only art therapy, but meditation and wellness workshops. ARTS Rx / NYC Creative Arts Therapy is an established New York licensed group behavioral health practice that offers children, adolescents, and adults a large range of psychotherapeutic treatments in individual and group settings. Their program offers an approach that intersects traditional psychotherapy techniques, mindfulness tools, cognitive-behavioral strategies, along with creative arts experiences through art therapy, music therapy, drama therapy, and dance/movement therapy.
As Pablo Picasso once said, “Art washes from the soul the dust of everyday life.” Art therapy can be therapeutic and beneficial to anyone. You don’t have to be dealing with a specific condition in order to qualify for art therapy. After all, anyone can find their inner artist, either individually or with the help of someone else. Create more. Find your peace. And be well.