Many people may wonder how something like art can be used as a serious form of psychotherapy. At first, it seems to be unrelated. But, the creative process is intricately tied to mental health, indeed. It can be the key to resolving even the most complex and deep-seeded psychological problems. Basically, art therapy can be extremely helpful for our behavioral health.
How? You may ask.
Right-brain activities help patients discover and accept their subconscious thoughts and personality. Through art, people can communicate their feelings more clearly not only to their therapist and other people, but to themselves. The art therapy can help the patient realize feelings they didn’t know they had. This, in-turn, increases the patient’s self-awareness, confidence, and interpersonal skills. Art can help people achieve deep insight into their situation. When the insight is achieved, harmful behaviors decrease and stress is reduces. Art therapy is an effective way to resolve conflicts and problems in the lives of people.
Sometimes, mental problems stem from suppressed feelings from traumatic events that may be too painful or seem to them like they are too embarrassing to talk about. The patient might not know how to bring them up. Drawing it out, writing a poem about it, or visually displaying it with props can help un-bottle the feelings. Even just getting them out on the paper, without necessarily having to share it with anyone, provides relief.
Using art to communicate, express, and heal is ancient, but art therapy was not considered an official psychological treatment until the mid-20th century. It stemmed from doctors noticing their patients with mental illnesses would often express themselves through drawings and artwork. This led to the notion that art can be used as part of the therapy to help bring about improvements and healing. To this day, art is used in the therapeutic field as part of assessment and treatment procedures and techniques.
Art therapy is effective on a wide range of psychological issues and mental disorders. It can be used in conjunction with other psychotherapy treatments to help alleviate patients. It can help patients with relatively common disorders like depression, anxiety, ADD, and ADHD.
Even if you don’t have any psychological ailments, using art can be beneficial when striving for greater self-awareness and general personal growth. Art can help bring about a sense of peace. Art is useful in treating depression in adults. There are simple exercises that you can do yourself to get started. Drawing a mandala (any design with a center) is a drawing that will reflect your feelings of ‘yourself’. Drawing this out and looking at it can be useful when sorting out your feelings about something.
There are some exercises people can do even if they are not artistically inclined at all. You can make a chart on a piece of paper with two sides- one that says “I like it when” and the other, “I don’t like it when” and fill it out with things in pairs. You can draw pictures, or just write words. The fact that it is visually laid out in order for you to be able to compare the sides is what counts!
Creative writing is also an art you can use. Creating poems, short stories, or even comics that are directly (or metaphorically) written about issues or struggles you are facing can be very helpful. This type of work helps you take your problems and turn them to something positive. They are transmuted into a gem. That art may (or may not, doesn’t matter) find an audience and even make someone else feel like they are not alone in similar struggles. Through creative examination of the problem, you may also find hope in having overcome the struggle and not letting it bring you down. Trying to do this kind of creative work can really help you feel much better about your circumstances.
“If it wasn’t for art, I would have killed myself long ago.” –Yayoi Kusama
“I sometimes wonder how all those who do not write, compose, or paint can manage to escape madness, the melancholia.” –Graham Greene
Cherry, Kendra. “What Is Art Therapy?” About.com. N.p., 2014. Web. 31 July 2014.
Ralitza Treneva is a DePaul graduate living in Chicago. She is trained in plant-based nutrition and has worked as a nutritional consultant. She is from Bulgaria.