The Benefits of Art Therapy on Mental Health

An estimated 26 percent of Americans ages 18 and older (approximately one in four adults) suffer from some form of mental health issue. In fact, many of these people will suffer from more than one diagnosable issue at a time. In addition, depressive issues tend to often co-occur with substance abuse or anxiety issues. This wide range of diagnosis can lead to a glut of ‘one size fits all” approaches. However, one of the most overlooked (yet effective) treatments/beneficial behaviors for those in recovery is art therapy. 

What is Art Therapy?

Art therapy has many definitions and applications, but the simplest way to explain it is perhaps “utilizing various arts in a therapeutic context”, or making art to improve your mindset.  While counseling is often beneficial, especially in conjunction with other treatments, you may not necessarily have to see a counselor in order to experience some of the therapeutic benefits of artistic expression. In fact, there are many different artistic activities you can do in the comfort of your own home that may be beneficial, including painting, sketching, knitting, sculpting, or various musical outlets.  It doesn’t have to be a specific type, just something you enjoy and are comfortable with!

While you do not need a professional to supervise your artistic therapy, it can often be helpful because these licensed professionals can tailor treatment to your specific needs. In addition, group-centric art therapy can be excellent for building connections with other people; a hallmark of successful treatment for depression. Art therapy should only be used with a willing participant. It can at times be as powerful, emotional, and revealing as more mainstream treatments like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

Who Should Try Art Therapy?

Simply put, anyone feeling burdened by the stressful, hurried world we live in could potentially benefit from art therapy. The process of creating art can be extremely therapeutic and the “slowing down” required can allow freedom from the difficulties of modern life. Art therapy, while beneficial for just about anyone, can be especially helpful for those dealing with depression, anxiety, PTSD, grief or loss, and eating disorders. 

Since the focus of art therapy is on the process, not the final product, participants are free to experiment and enjoy whatever process they find most beneficial.

Mental Health Benefits of Art Therapy

Art therapy is an excellent complement to more traditional modes of treatment, such as in-person therapy. The goal is to assist in focus, reflection, processing, and emotional stability. Some of the most obvious benefits of art therapy are:

  • Self-discovery: art therapy can help you identify subconscious or repressed feelings by helping you focus and reflect. 
  • Self-esteem: The process and the final product can help give you a sense of accomplishment about completing something and being consistent in creativity. 
  • Emotional release: One of the best benefits of art therapy is that it provides an outlet for expression and release of pent up emotions. It may be difficult to express some of our more complicated emotions in conversations-this is where art therapy can prove valuable. 
  • Stress relief: Dealing with the difficulties of mental health concerns can be draining. Art therapy can be a useful tool for providing calm and relieving stress.

Other Benefits of Art Therapy

It is imperative to know that art therapy is accessible to anyone. Human beings are born innately creative, and the only thing you need for this process to work is the will and desire. Once you allow yourself to let your guard down and attempt to be creative, you may just wake up your inner artist. 

Many studies also show that creating art or participating in art therapy releasees dopamine-a naturally occurring chemical that combats depression. Dopamine is released in the brain when we do something we find pleasurable-basically it makes us happy! Increased levels of dopamine can absolutely help combat depression, anxiety, and other mental health concerns.

Counselors and other mental health professionals agree that art therapy can be a great and non-threatening place to begin treatment for various mental health concerns. During the process of art creation and art therapy, you will go on a journey of self-discovery that will help you understand yourself and others better.

The Benefits of Creativity on the Therapeutic Process

Art therapy is the most commonly used supplement to traditional therapy. The process can be beneficial as a primary method or secondary/complementary to other modalities.

Benefits of Art Therapy in Rehab

The American Art Therapy Association (AATA) defines art therapy as the therapeutic use of art-making, within a professional relationship, by people who experience illness, trauma or challenges in living, and by people who seek personal development.

Since its inception, art therapy has proven to have numerous benefits to those willing to embrace it. Some of the less-discussed, positive side-effects of adding art therapy to your therapeutic regimen are listed below. 

Benefit 1: Visual Communication

Entering into the rehabilitation process can prove very daunting. No matter how strong you may think you are, jumping into the awkwardness of full self-disclosure in a therapeutic setting can be tough.  Introducing art therapy gives addicts or others with mental health concerns an easy “in” that can be just what is needed to break down walls to recovery. The process of expressing oneself visually can often prove significantly easier than verbal communication.

Benefit 2: Personal Breakthroughs

Learning to express yourself visually can help lead to important breakthroughs potentially not possible through traditional methods alone. An individual who shows progress in art therapy will often begin to re-develop self-worth and begin to trust the process more. Both are personal breakthroughs, or milestones, that are crucial to successful mental health or addiction treatment.

Benefit 3: Self-Reflection

Addiction or related mental health issues tend to distort identity and self-worth in those suffering.  In art therapy, visualizing the self can be helpful to peel away the lies and get to the core of who you really are/who you want to be.

Benefit 4: Self-Confidence

Lack of self-esteem can be a common precursor to addiction as well as a byproduct of struggling with depression. Simply put, how we view ourselves often dictates how we treat ourselves and those we love. Creating in the process of art therapy will unlock a sense of achievement that can boost self-esteem. In addition, many basics of art therapy, such as coloring or painting, can remind us of happier or simpler times from our childhood

Benefit 5: Emotional Healing

Affirmation cards, or writing little encouraging phrases, are often used in art therapy.  Notes are left on blank notecards and either read periodically or brought out when someone is feeling low or needs encouragement. Simple statements like, “I am healthy,” “I am loved,” or “I believe in myself,” are used to bring joy and encouragement. This process is referred to as Cognitive Behavior Therapy. CBT, through consistent practice, can positively adjust someone’s emotional behaviors and lead to recovery.

Benefit 6: Self-Discovery

A positive experience with recovery can drastically alter someone’s life or career path. For instance, someone who experiences significant weight loss or health improvement may decide to pursue health or fitness coaching as a career. Art therapy has the potential to unlock hidden talents or passions that can lead to pursuing a career in the field, or at the very least advocating for it. Often when someone experiences a life-changing event, they are excited to share it with as many people as possible!

Benefit 7: Relapse Prevention

Relapse prevention is an extremely important aspect of a successful rehab process. Even after successful discharge from rehab, any number of stimuli can lead to a recurrence of symptoms of addiction or depression. Working through these temptations via creative expression is a skill that can benefit those in recovery for the rest of their lives. The same art therapy processes that empowered us to overcome our mental health or addiction issues can keep us grounded in the success of avoiding relapse.

The Profession of Art Therapy

Art therapy is a burgeoning segment of the overall therapy or addiction treatment landscape. With this growth comes improvements in certification, training, and evaluation. Art therapists are master-level, trained, and certified clinicians who work with people of varying ages and from different personal or therapeutic backgrounds. These professionals are guided by ethical and clinical modalities that enable them to prove effective. Tailoring treatment to the individual, these therapists are equipped to treat the emotional and spiritual well-being of their patients, as well as to aid in the personal, professional, or spiritual growth of those seeking personal improvement.

Where Art Therapy Happens

Art therapists work with individuals, couples, families, and groups in diverse settings. Some examples include:

  • Hospitals
  • Schools
  • Veteran’s clinics
  • Private practice
  • Psychiatric and rehabilitation facilities
  • Community clinics
  • Crisis centers
  • Forensic institutions
  • Senior communities

Interested in Art Therapy?

Do you think art therapy might be for you? Are you interested in easing into the treatment process or complimenting traditional therapeutic modalities with something fun, effective, and non-intrusive? Our trained staff is excited to help unlock your creativity and your path to wellness! Give art therapy at Renewal Behavioral Health a try today!