Art as Therapy?

Last week we discussed the suggested link between artists and mental illness. It came from a somewhat personal perspective. I am indeed an artist (musician, writer) and I have struggled with various disorders. My artistic friends have similar struggles. But this week I want to share a different side of the art/mental health connection.

In my own experience, art has always been more of a convalescence than a product of internal suffering. After my last breakup I was reckoning with imminent depression – it was cinema that brought me to worlds from which I gained a new perspective. When I battled anxiety years ago it was my punk band that showed me possibilities within myself. After a hard year in college, writing short stories helped make sense of it all.

I’ve already covered cinema therapy. But here I’d like to widen the scope to full-on art therapy. Cinema therapy is indeed a version of art therapy, but it is only one of many possibilities.

Art therapy is more or less what it sounds like. One version is for a therapist to recommend a book/movie/song etc. Then, in session with the doctor, the patient will discuss this “prescribed” piece of art. Another way – which is my focus in this post – is for the patient to create their own art. Usually it’s visual like painting or drawing. Sometimes a patient will be encouraged to create music or write a poem.

A therapist will then observe the patient’s method and, with them, explore their psychology throughout the process. The idea is that by creating art, a patient will express what they’ve learned in therapy and reveal their mind’s inner workings. The art itself varies depending on specific needs of a patient.

According to Psychology Today, “clients can ‘decode’ the nonverbal messages, symbols, and metaphors often found in these art forms, which should lead to a better understanding of their feelings and behavior so they can move on to resolve deeper issues.”

Art therapy is applied to more than just disorders. It can also ease suffering from physical ailments by providing an escape from symptoms and thought patterns. Escape is paired with therapeutic insight to help the terminally ill, patients with disabilities, those with chronic pain, traumatized individuals, and even aid in disaster relief.

It should be stressed that while there is evidence for art therapy’s efficacy, there is no definite research to back it up. Many professionals refer to it as “integrative therapy” – it compliments another, main therapy. Like with other practices – mindfulness, yoga, etc. – art therapy claims a growing bulk of neuroscience research as proof that it works… but only as a “side dish” therapy. Empirical evidence reaches the same conclusion.

Back to a personal note: being an artist never solved any of my problems. Therapy, hard work, and education did. However art was always there to point things out. To help me recognize the machinations of my own thinking. Art is often a tool of self-expression, inducing cathartic feelings for people with inner turmoil. This catharsis was never an end goal for me, but a means to an end. A means to find where it came from and what triggered it. In this way, art illuminated a path to wellness. As I’ve said before I was doing art therapy all those years and never knew it.

To learn more about art therapy you may want to check out these online resources:

Art Therapy Credentials Board, Inc. – This page will help you find a credentialed art therapist.

American Art Therapy Association – Website for the American Art Therapy Association

Harvard Health Blog, Art Therapy: Another way to help manage pain – Information about art therapy for chronic pain problems.

Note: For assistance with behavioral health issues, contact us at 305-740-3340 or schedule an appointment with BregmanMD.

References:

Edwards, Emmeline (2018, April) ICIMH Roundtable to Explore Research on Creative Art Therapies. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Retrieved on March 11, 2019, from https://nccih.nih.gov/research/blog/Art-Therapy

Psychology Today. Delusional Disorder. Retrieved on  March 8, 2019 from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapy-types/art-therapy

Wikipedia contributors. (2019, February 22). Art therapy. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 23:42, March 18, 2019, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Art_therapy&oldid=884535446

Winerman, Lea (2005, February). Express yourself! American Psychological Association. Retrieved March 10, 2019 from https://www.apa.org/monitor/feb05/express