What is Art Therapy | How Art Therapy Works | My Fit Brain

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How Art Therapy Works?  Uses & Benefits of It

The American Art Therapy Association characterizes art therapy as an approach to mental health that utilizes the process of creating art to improve mental, physical, and emotional wellness.

Art therapy involves the use of creative techniques such as drawing, painting, collage, photography, textiles, or sculpting to help people express themselves artistically and examine the psychological and emotional undertones in their art. With the guidance of a credentialed art therapist, 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. This therapy integrates psychotherapeutic techniques with the creative process to improve mental health and well-being. As clients create art, they may analyze what they have made and how it makes them feel. Through exploring their art, people can look for themes and conflicts that may be affecting their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. In this therapy individuals use creative expression to produce various types of media, which helps them explore their innermost emotions and thoughts, reconcile conflicts, manage stress and anxiety, develop self-awareness, manage addiction, and self-deprecating behaviors, and increase their sense of self-esteem.

People do not need to have artistic ability or special talent to participate in art therapy, and people of all ages including children, teens, and adults can benefit from it. This therapy is also known as an expressive therapy. This sort of therapy uses art as a means of communication and lets people express and explore their thoughts and emotions. You do not even need to be very artistic or creatively talented to take part in this therapy. The goal of art therapy is to utilize the creative process to help people explore self-expression and, in doing so, find new ways to gain personal insight and develop new coping skills.

Uses of Art Therapy

Art therapy can be used to treat a wide range of mental disorders and psychological distress. In many cases, it might be used in conjunction with other psychotherapy techniques such as group therapy or cognitive-behavioral therapy.

Some situations in which art therapy might be utilized include:

  • Children with learning disabilities
  • Adults experiencing severe stress4
  • Children suffering from behavioral or social problems at school or at home
  • People experiencing mental health problems3
  • Individuals suffering from a brain injury
  • Children or adults who have experienced a traumatic event

Some conditions that art therapy may be used to treat include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Cancer
  • Medical conditions
  • Ageing-related issues4
  • PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Emotional difficulties
  • Eating disorders
  • Substance Abuse
  • Family or relationship problems7
  • Psychosocial issues
  •  Stress
  • Autism
  • Down Syndrome

Types Of Art Therapy

Here are the types of art therapies that you could choose from.

1. Painting

This art therapy technique is probably almost limitless. Painting can give you a great sense of freedom, being able to paint whatever you want. Your therapist can make this a little easier for you by assigning exercises and prompts on what you can base your drawing on. You will have a blank canvas to work on, with so many possibilities. For example, you can explore your emotions and draw whatever comes to your mind, expressing your emotions and your creative side.

2. Collaging

Collaging is where you cut and stick pictures that inspire you or express your emotions and put them all together. This can really give you a great sense of freedom and can help you to explore your creative side without having to paint or draw. It is your own personal art, but through collecting other pictures that best express how you feel. Collaging is also very similar to making a vision board, which is where you make a collage of your dream life and goals. Be sure to get your free visualization toolkit, which contains an ultimate guide to using a dream board

3. Digital Art

As times are changing now, we need new techniques to keep up with it. Digital art is where you use the computer to make your art. This could be electronically designing a collage or using a drawing software to make your illustrations. This has been said to help children, who are used to computers and phones, and made expressing their art easier for them. It also helps that the possibilities are almost endless when using digital software too, helping you express your emotions even further.

Photoimaging software. Instead of cutting and pasting magazine and book images and pasting them into a paper collage, digital arts programs allow users to do the same electronically. There are literally millions of images available online for these projects.

Drawing software. Some therapists argue that the sensory benefits of creating are excluded using computers, yet others cite cases of younger generations preferring to draw digitally and more intuitively than with pencils or paintbrushes.

4. Photography

For those who maybe are not as keen on drawing and painting as others, photography can be a great outlet. Most smartphones have up-to-date, HD cameras built-in! Make use of the technology you have or research into investing in a more professional camera. You can take pictures of so many different things, such as, things you are thankful for, people who you love, or just things that you find beautiful and pleasing. Combine this idea with collaging! Print out your photographs and use them on your vision board. Again, your art therapist can help you figure out which photography could be best for you.

5. Textiles

Using textiles in art therapy can be when you either use them as toys and puppets or if you have physical difficulties with using art suppliers due to motor skills, for example. Using textiles can also offer softness which can help to provide comfort for you. This can be a great way to express yourself whilst not worrying about physically having to use pen and paper.

6. Drawing

Drawing technique involves a patient using an item for easy mark marking. Supplies used in drawing include charcoal, pastels, pens, pencils, crayons, and paper-based substrates. Most clients are conversant with drawing supplies and they can use them with very little frustration or instruction. This form of therapy does not require any drawing skills as it is not intended for producing an artwork, but for helping the patient to explore their emotional aspects through creative art.

7. Sculpting

Clay or other types of sculpting materials traditionally have been used by art therapists, It involves having the client sculpt or represent important figures of his/her life. They don't even have to look like people, only representation of important figures. These representations reflect personalities, such as a large figure symbolizing an overbearing mother or father. The client also places the figures in relation to each other, showing the therapist, symbolically, the relationships and patterns of interactions of each figure. This gives both the client and the therapist a better understanding of how each figure's structure and patterns have affected the client, and perhaps contributed to a client's current issues and problems.

Selecting the Right Tools

Art therapists know that certain situations and personalities will require certain media - such as oil pastels. For example, it takes a longer period of time to cover a large surface with oil pastels - longer than paint. This is important as time allows some clients to discuss their feelings as they create.

Oil pastels also provide a sensory experience, the fingers, for example, directly on the oil pastel stick that marks the paper, rather than holding a brush that holds the paint - that marks the surface. More intense sensory experiences, such as using soft or oil pastels or clay, provide a way to calm and settle agitated patients.

However, clients who are not agitated but like mixing colors and creating textures might prefer paints, or mixed media techniques. Others prefer simply drawing with charcoal or graphite, perhaps those who have had some drawing experience in the past, or don't want to think about making color choices. Still others, especially autistic children, may prefer drawing on a computer.

Paints, oil and soft pastels, markers or other drawing tools, and clay give art therapists a solid toolbox for various therapeutic interventions, but there are many other tools that therapists use, such as tissue art, fiber arts, beadwork, and mask making.

Benefits of Art Therapy Activities

  • Self-discovery: Creating art can help you acknowledge and recognize feelings that have been lurking in your subconscious.
  • Self-esteem: The process will give you a feeling of self-accomplishment which can be very valuable to improve your self-appreciation and confidence.
  • Emotional release: The greatest benefit of art therapy is giving you a healthy outlet for expressing and letting go of all your feelings and fears. Complex emotions such as sadness or anger sometimes cannot be expressed with words. When you are unable to express yourself, but you desire emotional release, making art may help you to do it.
  • Stress relief: Fighting anxiety, depression or emotional trauma can be very stressful for you both mentally and physically. Creating art can be used to relieve stress and relax your mind and body.
  • Perception: Once art is created, it stands on its own for interpretation. Often, one individual’s perception of a piece of art is different from another person’s. Art therapy typically explores an individual’s understanding of what constitutes “self-perception” and “global perception.” Frequently produced or addressed perceptions become a stepping stone to help the individual both recognize and validate their emotions.
  • Personal Integration: The creative process becomes an avenue for the individual to incorporate personal experiences and express private thoughts in a non-threatening and non-challenging medium. Many participants find that, following art therapy, they grow more comfortable with their identity and self-image. This may occur as a result of making emotions visible through the artistic process, which provides a resource for the individual to visualize and conceptualize emotions that even they may not immediately recognize or understand.
  • Emotional Regulation: Art therapy focuses on the regulation of emotions and impulses by challenging the individual to channel expression through the creative process. The introduction of artistic expression frequently becomes a cathartic resource for emotional expression, which provides the individual with greater emotional control and the ability to self-regulate in social situations.
  • Behaviour Modification: Again, by focusing on the artistic process, art therapy introduces an alternative means of perceiving behavior. By providing a space to rehearse alternative responses to existing personal narratives, the individual learns a potentially more helpful way to manage behaviors.


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