How Does Art Therapy Work?

How Does Art Therapy Work?

Art has existed for centuries. Around 40,000 years ago, the first forms of “art” were documented in the forms of sculptures, paintings and pottery. As early as this time, humans have found ways to express themselves in a language other than the spoken kind. Art-making has spanned all continents, cultures, languages and time periods. Why is art so important to us?

Much of art history has shown us how detailed cultural and personal expressions can be. Humans have long used written literature, music and art to communicate a variety of emotions and experiences. Before photography existed, art has served as a historical lens into how humans lived, adapted to changes and coped with problems of their time!

Today, art is used in clinical therapy to assist clients with a variety of issues and is a great tool in the process of healing. Art Therapy is a process that enriches our lives through active art-making, creative process, applies psychological theory, and human experience within a psychotherapeutic relationship.

Research has shown art therapy to be of immense value to humans – it improves our cognitive functioning like problem-solving, abstract thinking and decision-making skills. On a more personal level, it fosters positive self-esteem, increases self-awareness and cultivates emotional resiliency. This may be because it is used as a coping strategy that is safe, expressive and creative, sharpening our sense of security and wellness.

In art therapy, the end result is not what matters! We don’t focus on the completion of the art piece. Instead, we focus on the process. Art therapy emphasizes becoming aware of the SELF. It brings about self-exploration and uncovers emotions in a subtle, unique way. Clients may be prompted by their therapist, to engage in a task with a particular goal in mind. For example, if your anxiety had an image, what would that look like? Let’s draw it out. At other times, we may ask the client to simply draw, paint – just create. This might look like playing relaxing, melodic music and loosening your wrist as we scribble, but, focusing fully on the moment, a.k.a. mindfulness practice.

Another approach can to be to focus on colours and how they can be used to express emotion in the current moment. There are many ways in which art therapy could take place in your therapy session, it’s just about finding what fits for you.

Now, some people may stop and think, why couldn’t I just do this at home? Why would I come into a therapist’s office to create art? As mental health clinicians, we strongly encourage anyone to fulfill their hobbies and engage in self-care at home. Sitting in the comfort of your home in your pajamas creating a sculpture is a wonderful activity that releases stress and re-directs anger or anxiety.

However, art therapy is the most beneficial when held within a safe therapeutic relationship with a qualified therapist who can engage with the art, and the creative process to help you move toward your own personal goals. The art means something to you and to whatever it is that has brought you to therapy. In the context of therapy you are able to address concerns, barriers and distress that compromise your functioning. Art therapy becomes a part of your journey of healing or recovery.

Art therapy is a gentle and engaging approach to addressing mental health problems and nurturing spiritual growth. So much can be uncovered with a few brush strokes, a prompt and your imagination. A lot of people report feeling relief, like they’ve released pent up emotion over the years. Others have stated solving problems and conflicts by having drawn them and seen them visually represented on the paper. The benefits of art therapy are numerous and seem to fit clients from any age, cultural background and skill level. Remembering all the while that it is about the process, not the product.

We hope you enjoy learning more about art therapy and its advantages to healing. Please get in touch with our team if you’d like to know more, book a session and get engaged with one of our art therapists.

Rehaan Shafi is a Registered Psychotherapist (Qualifying) at The Story Isn’t Over.

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