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Exploring Depression through Art Therapy

by Lauren Fallat, MA LPC ATR-BC

Research continues to develop in the overlapping areas of creativity and mental health. Studies continue to suggest that engaging in a creative endeavor, such as art making, may ease symptoms of depression and other mental-health ailments. Your health depends on your expression of your unique talents, ideas, emotions and perceptions. While it is suggested that creativity and mood disorders are linked, there is no strong evidence that suggests that being creative causes depression or a mood disorder. It is believed, and continues to be studied, that the creative process can help relieve symptoms of depression and other mood-related disorders by providing an outlet for emotions, thoughts and urges to be expressed in a non-verbal way.

So what are the symptoms of depression and how can art therapy target these areas?

Symptoms of depression might include:

  • feelings of sadness, tiredness, worthlessness, guilt, shame, emptiness, hopelessness, helplessness, numbness, and tearfulness

  • anger outbursts and increased irritability

  • loss of interest in activities that one once enjoyed

  • low motivation

  • sleep disturbances

  • low energy

  • Anxiety

  • Restlessness

  • changes in appetite

  • thoughts of self-blame and past failures

  • and/or suicidal thoughts

Art therapy has the potential to provide an individual struggling with these symptoms an opportunity to safely identify, externalize and process these emotions in a verbal or non-verbal way, gain validation for their personal experiences, build a sense of hope through future planning and visualization, improve feelings of capability and motivation, improve a sense of accomplishment, increase self-compassion, improve emotional regulation, improve distress tolerance and encourage spiritual growth through self-awareness and self-reflective activities.

It may be difficult to engage in an artmaking activity if you or a loved one is having difficulties motivating to get out of bed or to engage in something new. It may also be challenging during an art session to get started or overcome any shame that may surface as one picks up an art material, such as a pencil or a marker. The important thing to remember is that you are worthy of being seen and heard and understood. You deserve to have your narrative and experiences validated.

Art has a way of asserting one’s individual experience by affording the creator and artist the platform to speak through images in spaces where often they may be afraid or discouraged from sharing openly. You do not have to be alone with how you are feeling.

In an art therapy session, you may be encouraged to directly draw what depression feels like. What colors would you choose and what lines would represent that feeling. Perhaps there is a symbol or image that can best represent the emotional experience best. I have witnessed many people create images of a ball and chain, a jail cell, a hole that they are trapped in that stems from their bed- images of emptiness, aloneness, and detachment. Others have created masks that represent the exterior- what others see of one’s depression depicted on the outside and what is hidden on the inside. There are many ways to express your experience or a loved one’s experience with depression and it is important that your voice and lived experiences are validated and safe.

The symptoms of depression are scary and feeling alone in the process contributes greatly to feeling hopeless and desperate. In an art therapy session, you are able to experience connection in a non-judgmental, warm and safe environment in which your art therapist is there to hold and contain what you express. Often we believe the goal of therapy is to fix ourselves or another person, but rather it is to connect and feel that connection with another human. You are not alone. Please reach out to the Holistic Health Counseling Center to learn more about the services that we provide at 908-857-4422.

To Schedule your first appointment, click on the Book an Appointment button. Also, please visit the Holistic Health Counseling Center website at:


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