How Art Therapy Helps People Heal
Art therapy provides a safe haven for patients where they can explore unexpressed feelings of anger, sorrow, or fear, which they may probably not know how to verbalise.
Art therapy is helping in dealing with various conditions across age groups. It can be especially helpful for people with learning disabilities, severe stress, trauma, depression, anxiety, and other psychological issues.
It is common in people with Alzheimer's disease and other dementias to experience neuropsychiatric symptoms. There is evidence that when people with dementia are provided with structured art therapy sessions, they are capable of producing and appreciating art. Furthermore, there is theoretical evidence in the form of several case studies, and small trials suggest that art therapy successfully engages attention, improves neuropsychiatric symptoms, helps build self-esteem and confidence (Chancellor, Duncan & Chatterjee, 2014).
Art therapy can be broadly divided into two kinds—art as therapy and art psychotherapy.
Art as a therapy operates on the idea that engaging in art-making in itself is therapeutic and creative expression promotes self-growth. It is this idea that many self-help mandala - colouring books capitalises on. So if you've ever heard someone rave about the calming effects of art-making, they are referring to this therapeutic experience. Art-making, in itself, is an immersive process, where artists may use this creative process to focus on producing aesthetically pleasing art.
Art Psychotherapy operates on the idea that art-making is a symbolic form of communication, that helps express emotions, thoughts and human experiences. Art Psychotherapist engages in creating a safe space for the client, providing an avenue to reflect and process events, thoughts, feelings using creative as a catalyst. Art Psychotherapists leverage on the therapeutic benefits of art-making and combine skills of counselling in a session. They use art materials as an enquiring tool to facilitate creative expression and symbolism as a vocabulary to help bring to surface unexpressed, pent-up feelings, emotions or thoughts. Through the process of making art, while is it not uncommon that product may turn out to be aesthetically pleasing, the focus of art-making in an art therapy session is seldom on creating eye-pleasing masterpieces. On the contrary, the focus is entirely on facilitating self-expression as a mode of enquiry to alleviate mental health problems and promote wellbeing.
Hence Art therapy can be suited to help people deal with illnesses as well as promote mental being in general.
Chancellor, B., Duncan, A., & Chatterjee, A. (2014). Art therapy for Alzheimer's disease and other dementias. Journal of Alzheimer's disease: JAD, 39(1), 1–11. https://doi.org/10.3233/JAD-131295