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5 Uses for Art Therapy

According to the British Association of Art Therapists, art therapy is a variation of psychotherapy that uses all mediums of artistic expression as a primary conduit for expression of emotions and a means of communication. While differences between the Continental interpretation of psychology or psychiatry and that practiced in the United States do exist, in this the discipline is unified. Those interested in knowing more about this field may question how such therapies are employed. In the article below, we'll list five of the most beneficial applications of the therapy, and provide practical context.

1. The Average Bear

While this therapeutic approach is often used for those with mental, neurological, or physical conditions, it can be beneficial for anyone. Art therapists are trained in both psychological analysis and artistic endeavor, which means that they will not only enable individuals to express themselves via a number of artistic forms, but will also be qualified to help them interpret the results. It can be a wonderful way to relieve stress or anxiety caused by other aspects of life. Art therapy also provides a means of self-exploration and personal growth, and should not be seen solely as a treatment for psychological, mental, or physical disturbances.

2. Art and the Autism Spectrum

Autism spectrum disorders now describe many forms of autistic disorder that were previously specifically classified. Among their unifying features is difficulty with social interactions, forming relationships, and communicating. Because art therapists are not simply trained as artists, they recognize the more subtle benefits of the act of making art, and describe it as a communication tool. But the organic or physiological aspects of many spectrum disorders are also addressed by the therapy. Because their brains interpret some sensory information differently—from the experience of touch to sound to spatial orientation— individuals with autism may react strongly by biting, screaming, or even withdrawal. Artistic therapies allow them an alternative focus.

3. Elder Care and Expression

Many individuals experience cognitive, physical, and social difficulties as they age. But whether they continue to live independently or reside in an exclusive retirement community, artistic therapies can benefit them in a variety of ways. At any age and in any state of health, the act of creating is both communicative and deeply satisfying on a number of levels. Therapeutic interpretation stresses that the process is far more important than the product of creation, and exposure to a variety of media can often enhance the quality of life of our elder population. Art is physical, visual, aural or auditory, and in a therapy session, it is also a communal act. It engages cognitive functions, motor skills, social skills, and is a means of self-expression—everything a human being needs to stay sharp and enjoy life.

4. Coping with PTSD

While post-traumatic stress disorder is often associated with armed services veterans, those who have been assaulted, abused, experienced violent crime or natural disaster, or survived a physically traumatic accident can also suffer from it. For example, approximately 1/3 of all rape victims suffer from prolonged symptoms of PTSD, which can include depression, heightened awareness, agitation, inability to focus, and insomnia, among others. Whatever the root of their difficulty, art therapy is often effectively employed to ease their trauma. Because it is both a communication tool and a pastime in which individuals can effectively immerse themselves, these therapies are often also effective in persuading patients to discuss their feelings and thoughts.

5. Recovery from Addiction

When treating drug dependence and substance abuse, artistic therapies can be intensely beneficial. Not only do they offer something upon which the patient can focus, they can also provide therapists with the information they need to help their charges. This is often information the patients themselves may not be capable of articulating. In most cases of substance abuse or dependency, therapists will often discover a non-apparent cause for the development of dependent behavior. This can be related to the patient's personal life, professional stresses, or even trauma experienced many years prior to their first use of drugs or alcohol. Through visual arts, dance, and music, therapists can guide their patients toward discovering and relieving this unaddressed source of pain, which contributes to their overall healing progress.

See also: The Best Undergraduate Degrees in Art Therapy Ranked by Affordability 2016