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5 Ways Art Therapy Helps in the Treatment of Mental Illness

5 Ways Art Therapy Helps in Mental Health Counseling

  • Less Intimidating
  • Promotes Expression
  • Bypasses Speech
  • Builds Problem-Solving Skills
  • Helps Patients Relax

Art therapy involves a therapist working with patients who may paint, draw, dance or engage in some other form of art dealing with their anxiety, trauma or mental illness. Below are five advantages of this type of therapy.

See our ranking of The Best Undergraduate Degrees in Art Therapy Ranked by Affordability.

1. Less Intimidating

The idea of going to see a therapist can be intimidating for many people. This may be true for children in particular, who may respond better to the idea of drawing and painting than sitting across from a therapist and talking. Some people who suffer from mental illnesses have had negative experiences with other mental health professionals and thus bad associations.

2. Promotes Expression

Art therapy has been successful with children, with adults suffering from addictions, with people who have post-traumatic stress disorder and a number of other populations. One advantage of art therapy is that the art a person creates can be used as both a prompt and a prop to talk through feelings and experiences. People who are reluctant to open up to a therapist may be eager to express themselves through art. For some adult patients, it may be the first time they have engaged in this kind of expression since childhood.

3. Bypasses Speech

Many people who experience trauma or who suffer from mental illness may find it difficult to talk about. As an article in the Huffington Post explains, art therapy can be a way for people to express things that they lack the language for. Art therapy can unlock emotions and experiences in a way that the more linear experience of speech cannot, and the patient might eventually be able to articulate those emotions and experiences.

4. Builds Problem-Solving Skills

Art therapy can build problem-solving skills for people working both alone and in groups. Working as a group on a project such as a collage can help people set aside worries about their artistic skills and focus on the completion of the project at hand. Art therapy can also help shift perspective and allow solutions to arise that might not have been clear when a person was approaching the problem from a more direct angle.

5. Helps Patients Relax

The process of therapy can be a difficult one. People are often dredging up negative emotions and dealing with experiences they have tried to keep hidden. Art therapy has been shown to be successful at calming anxiety, stress and depression in a wide variety of patients ranging from people with Alzheimer's disease to those struggling with drug addiction to those with a serious mental illness such as bipolar disorder.

Many people may enjoy sculpting, writing a poem or using another type of artistic expression to deal with stress and anxiety, but in order for it to qualify as therapy, it must be carried out while working with a licensed art therapist. The unique opportunities for expression and accessing different parts of the brain make art therapy an excellent therapeutic approach for some individuals.