Art therapy is not often brought up when discussing ways to improve mental health. Medication and counseling are affirmed to be the main solutions to curing mental illnesses. But for someone like me who’s very much into holistic health, I like alternative options.
I think there are multiple ways to deal with mental illnesses. Some people like to talk but I find it better to write down my thoughts. To provide mere solutions to a pool of people is like having a class full of students and expecting them to all learn the same way. In order to be a great teacher, you must have several learning styles to provide each student.
I believe that there may be other techniques we haven’t discovered, and I also think that methods we’ve used in the past- such as herbal medicine can still benefit us now. I’m also wary of all the side effects most drugs are filled with today. But that’s another post.
The point is…there are many benefits of using art therapy for mental health.
In school, we learned about the left brain vs right brain thinking. How some people mostly use their analytical side hence why they perform better in Math and Science. We also learned others used the creative side of the brain more which led them to perform better in the arts or writing. There is also Gardner’s multiple intelligence theory which is a whole other thing in itself. But I think there’s a lot of truth to it.
Either way, I can positively say that for most of my life I have leaned more towards the arts. My parents used to think that I would become an artist because as a kid, I was obsessed with coloring. I mean…I’m an amateur at best but I do love being creative. There is an outburst of passion that it offers as well as comfort. My mind goes to a place where reality pauses and rest. My thoughts take a breather which is all I ever want.
What is Art Therapy?
Art therapy is a therapeutic process that focuses on using creativity to improve one’s wellness emotionally and mentally. It teaches you to focus on your feelings during the art making process rather than your performance.
The Benefits of Art Therapy on Mental Health
Art therapy can help people of all ages with depression, anxiety, ptsd, emotional trauma, substance abuse, bipolar disorder, autism, dementia, etc. The purpose of art therapy is to help individuals disconnect from psychological issues and provide stress relief. Studies show that art therapy is effective in improving quality of life and wellness. The process of art making stimulates dopamine release thus becoming a natural antidepressant.
The benefits include:
- A self expression of feelings
- Being able to communicate emotions that may be hard to do verbally
- It’s a natural and safe coping mechanism for mental illnesses
- It improves concentration
- It creates a safe space and allows a mental escape from everyday tasks
- It increases self esteem over time as you take notice of the growth of your skills through art therapy.
Though many of us use art as a means to enhance the ambiance of a room, art has a significant impact on our mental wellbeing as well. In fact, there are tons of health and wellness benefits to viewing a work of art. For instance, students surveyed after visiting an art museum displayed higher social tolerance and increased historical empathy. It’s also believed to increase critical thinking skills by 9-18%.
Viewing art is one thing, but the act of creating art can be an extremely therapeutic practice used by many as well. In fact, creating art draws people’s attention to details and the environment, mimicking the experience of meditation. It can also help improve dementia patients’ memories and self-esteem.
The benefits are truly endless. So next time you have the opportunity, stroll through your local museum or pick up your sketchbook because the benefits of art on our health are remarkable.
Ways to practice Art Therapy
There are many different ways to practice art therapy. You can try painting, adult coloring books, art journaling, sculpturing, clay art, digital art, knitting, embroidery, doodling, calligraphy, scrapbooking, etc.
Finding a technique that works for you is what’s most important. While I’ve heard positive reviews, I personally can’t do adult coloring books because creativity is still inside a box, and it pushes out the control I could have over it. Coloring within the lines doesn’t work for me unless I make my own lines. My inner perfectionist would visit and obviously aiming for perfection defeats the point of art therapy. And trust me, I’ve had work that I considered “crappy” but I was still proud of them because I enjoyed the activity.
So yes, coloring books can work well if you just enjoy coloring and not the innovative process. But it’s not my cup of tea. I’ve also had some fun with clay art but it didn’t improve my emotional well-being. The fun was short-lived. On the other hand, art journaling is something that I get excited about and look forward to doing. I always feel relaxed afterwards which is the result you want to achieve through art therapy. All you have to do is find which activity works for you.
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Until next time,
*A special thanks to Invaluable for collaborating and providing the infographics.
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