Here are 6 incredible benefits of using art-making in therapy!
“It is only in being creative that the individual discovers the self.”D. W. Winnicott
When strangers learn that I am an art therapist, most are curious – and often, ignorant about what art therapy actually is. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked, “What exactly is art therapy?”
And so, I have become an advocate of the benefits of art therapy.
Which usually starts with a basic explanation of what art therapy is. Here is a great definition from The American Art Therapy Association.
But besides for that, I want to let you know about why art is so great, and how it really adds to therapy.
First, let me attack a common myth – that art therapy is only for children. While art therapy is great for kids, it can help people of ALL ages. Yes, really – I’ve got a lot of experience with this!
In fact, I prefer doing art therapy with adults because they can reflect on their artwork in ways that are rich, insightful, and refreshing. I’ll never forget my first job as an art therapist in a nursing home. I learned so much from my clients, many of whom were in their 90’s. A majority of the residents had not done art since preschool, and in our art therapy groups they could appreciate the many benefits of art-making.
So, I’m pretty certain that age is not a factor. I believe that everyone can benefit from the art process.
Here’s how art and art therapy work intersect.
Art therapy is a powerful combination of two fronts – the process of art-making itself and the effectiveness of the art therapist’s interventions.
In order to get an art therapy degree, candidates are required to get a master’s degree, which ensures a high level of education and qualification. And, art therapists are trained in counseling plus art techniques to promote self-expression and healing.
As an art therapist, I use art as a tool to achieve the same goals as traditional therapy, and we use a lot of talk therapy too. The process of art is enlisted to promote emotional health and healing. The art-making helps foster something special, a feeling of creativity that starts to flow as we get creative and learn to understand the message of the art.
And so, I’ve compiled my own list of the unique advantages that art adds to the therapy process:
- The creative process engages the whole brain which enhances focus and promotes healing on a neurological level. Art making promotes flow and increases vitality.
- Doing art can provide an immediate physical and emotional release, as topics that were blocked or stuck have an outlet.
- Exploring your art within the framework of art therapy can increase insight and change perspective in a safe setting. You can see what you were feeling or thinking now that it’s outside of you, or externalized..
- Art connects to the unconscious and assists in the expression of non-verbal experiences. As a result art therapy can process trauma and relieve PTSD symptoms.
- Learning to do art can be a coping tool and resource for resilience to deal with life challenges. Doing art on your own or with others can improve your mood and increase feelings of wellness.
- Making art can increase confidence and build self-esteem.
In practice, the actual process of therapy will be unique for each person. Nonetheless, I want to share an example that highlights the benefits of art in therapy so you can get an idea of how powerful this is. Evelyn, a past client, shared the following story about she benefited from the art process:
“Coming to art therapy gave me a chance to organize my thoughts and gain clarity. When I would start working on an art project, usually related to some challenge in my life, my mind would focus on the task and I’d start making decisions about what to do.
At the same time, a parallel part of my brain was sorting through all sorts of experiences related to the topic of my artwork. A lot of times I would be surprised at where the art took my brain.
Let me give you an example. One day I was feeling like a terrible mother because I knew my kids weren’t get what they needed.
I started doing art with clay and a house emerged. My hands formed a room in the back for my oldest son, who was suffering from severe anger outbursts and really needed his one space. I put a thick door at the entrance of the room and a lock on the door. Then I added a lock on the outside of the door.
With startling clarity, I realized how much I craved space from his outbursts. I felt a strong sense of relief. This was a huge breakthrough for me.”
– Evelyn, 43 (all identifying information has been changed)
This anecdote shows how Evelyn benefited from the art process that unfolded to learn more about herself and her emotional reality. As she looked at her artwork, she gained a more objective view of her life. She experienced a strong emotional release and clarity to make new goals for herself.
Art therapy will be unique for everyone. If you are interested in taking advantage of the benefits of art therapy, take the time to find a good art therapist.
How do you find a good art therapist?
Well, there are a few ways to go about it. A good way to start is to research which art therapists practice in your area.
Then, if it’s possible, I recommend that you reach out to your social network and community to get personal recommendations. While not fool-proof, word of mouth is the best way to get first-hand information.
Because, therapy needs to be a good fit. Getting good therapy is one way to practice self care.
Also, many art therapists offer a free phone consult, which is a short conversation to see if they feel that they can help you. That will give you a sense of whether it feels right for you to see this particular therapist.
No matter what, when you decide to go to therapy, remember that you are validating how important YOU are!
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