Do you wonder how art making is therapeutic? How does it help?
by Lauren Fallat, MA LPC ATR-BC
Art Therapy: What are the Benefits?
Art Therapy may be a natural choice for individuals who have, through personal exploration and engagement with art making, already experienced the life-enhancing properties and benefits of the process. Personal art making promotes our well-being by tapping into our natural creative energy and promoting our authentic self in emerging through our images, forms and creations. For these individuals, it may be a step further to choose to engage in an art making process within an art therapy session in order to build insight, process emotions and thoughts surrounding current or past experiences, or to express feelings that have been difficult to externalize, identify or work through on one’s own.
For others, art therapy may be a risk, unfamiliar territory, a bridge to a past steeped in criticism and judgment about one’s artistic abilities. And some of us might be somewhere in between, having a curiosity about using art in therapy, but may be unsure of what this looks like or how it could be beneficial. While art making often is associated with child-like processes, the benefits extend into adolescence, young adulthood, adulthood, and older adults. The core belief is that art is transformative and art is healing. To create is to bring forth something unique to the world which had not existed before- this might be an image reflecting one’s past, present or future circumstances or may be a symbol representing an internal struggle or emotional experience. The belief is that being seen and being heard in a non-judgmental, validating and supportive environment while engaging in a dynamic and active process can enhance self-awareness, self-compassion and positive change in one’s feelings, thoughts and behaviors.
So, what is it that one might experience as a “benefit”. Improved mood, the increased ability to regulate emotions, the increased ability to identify and express a variety of emotions, increased self-compassion, the ability to process grief and loss in an alternative way, a new foundation for exploring identity, life transitions and personal goals. As stated in a systematic review of art therapy interventions by Maujean, Pepping & Kendall (2014), “art therapy interventions may have both short and long-term benefits for a wide range of individuals who are managing intense emotions.” Research continues to be conducted on the effectiveness of art therapy in working with individuals with depression, anxiety, mood disorders, PTSD, complex trauma, ADHD, ASD, eating disorders, addiction, OCD, terminal illness, and psychosis.
A core component of art therapy stems in its ability to blend our spiritual nature with our creative one. Our desire as humans to understand what is important to us, how we want to be, who we want to be, what we believe in, what vision we have for an ideal life- these are areas that can be explored visually and experientially through the art-making process. Feeding our soul, allowing ourselves to be seen and heard without judgment. This may be the best kept secret surrounding the benefits of art therapy- the power to imagine and create a life of our own, to express our dreams and to trust in a process that can transform how we feel, think and perceive ourselves and the world around us.
Article cited in this blog:
Annick Maujean, Christopher A. Pepping & Elizabeth Kendall (2014) A Systematic Review of Randomized Controlled Studies of Art Therapy, Art Therapy, 31:1, 37-44, DOI: 10.1080/07421656.2014.873696