“Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”
Being a famous artist, Picasso likely spent much of his time creating masterpieces. While not exactly the same, most people can remember how relaxing coloring with crayons and a coloring book could be as a child, or mixing up paints to create different colors, even making papier-mâché class projects. Many adults may claim that they no longer have time for these activities, however art has actually been shown to have multiple benefits for all ages. In fact, creating art, appreciating art, and engaging in art have been shown to have positive effects on individuals of every age. A 2010 study conducted by Stuckey and Nobel and published in the American Journal of Public Health reported that engaging in music, visual arts, expressive writing, and creative expression through movement all had significantly positive effects on health. Another study conducted by Bolwer, Mack-Andrick, Lang, Dofler, and Maihofner in 2014 showed that retired adults who participated in creating art had improvements in interaction among regions of the brain and better psychological resiliency. Children who participate in arts, such as dance, drama, music, etc. can improve self-esteem, gain self-confidence, and increase their physical and emotional development.
With all that we know about the benefits of art, it is no surprise that art therapy was developed through combining art with psychology. According to the American Art Therapy Association, “art therapy is an integrative mental health and human services profession that enriches the lives of individuals, families, and communities through active art-making, creative process, applied psychological theory, and human experience within a psychotherapeutic relationship.” Some goals of art therapy include increasing self-esteem and self-awareness, cultivating emotional resilience, improving cognitive and sensorimotor functions, encouraging new insights, enhancing social skills, resolving conflicts, reducing stress, and advancing change.
So how is art therapy different from just creating art at home or in a class? Arttherapy.ca lists five essential ways in which art therapy differs from art class.
1. The relationship – Art therapy involves a therapeutic relationship with a credentialed art therapist. While art is being made, therapy is the main goal of the session.
2. The Location – Art therapy is conducted in a confidential, contained space.
3. The main goal – The main goal of art therapy is self-expression, which is used to express or communicate something that the client is working through.
4. Usage of materials – In art therapy, there is no right or wrong way to use materials or to make something. Whatever the client creates is accepted and explored within the therapeutic relationship.
5. View of the finished product – Art therapy emphasizes what the artwork communicates for or about its creator, not necessarily how it looks. The process of creating art in therapy can be just as important as the finished art product. Instead of being viewed or judged by others, the client decides what the artwork means to them.
Art therapy can use a wide variety of mediums for art creation. A few examples include collage, visual journals, mask making, painting, drawing, and creating sculptures. Whichever medium is chosen, art therapy has been shown to have many benefits. Art therapy can help clients who have experienced trauma, addiction, are working through grief, or who are coping with a disability. Additionally, due to the age and developmental stage of children, they are not always able to verbalize their thoughts, feelings, and experiences. However, art therapy allows children to express themselves without using words.
The benefits that art therapy offers all clients, regardless of age, include the ability to work through difficult emotions, reduced anxiety, improved mood and coping skills, a sense of personal empowerment, and healing from trauma (including physical and sexual abuse) just to name a few.
At Small Talk, Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is the treatment style that is most often used, but we do help our clients become creative in their treatment, which includes the use of art. From creating stress balls to coloring emotion wheels, art helps our clients dust off the realities of life, while healing from some of the more painful experiences.
-Amber Johnson, MSW Intern
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