Art therapy might seem like a fairly modern concept but it has actually been around since the 1940s. But, what is it exactly and how can people benefit from this therapy?
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Art therapy explained
Art therapy is a form of creative expression using a wide range of art media, such as painting, drawing, sculpting or photography. The art created by someone is used to provide insights into their feelings and emotions, which may be difficult to express verbally. A trained therapist works with a person to understand and interpret their art and its meanings in terms of how a person thinks or feels. Art therapy can be carried out individually or within a group setting.
It’s important to note that art therapy isn’t about developing skills or talent in art. The process of creating art is more important than the end result. This makes art therapy a universal approach, suitable for all age groups. In particular, it can be useful for helping children deal with difficult emotions that they can’t put into words.
Reduce stress, anxiety and depression
Art therapy can help people cope with feelings of stress, anxiety and depression. Negative thoughts and difficult emotions associated with these conditions can be analysed and examined through the creation of art, with a view to releasing these feelings or dealing with them in a better way.
In particular, the process of creating art itself is very therapeutic. It helps you focus on what you’re doing, forgetting all of your worries. Switching off gives your troubled mind a break, helping it to heal.
Deal with traumatic experiences
Some people who have experienced traumatic events may struggle to deal with their emotions in the aftermath, often resulting in the development of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Sufferers may suppress difficult emotions or struggle to put into words how they feel. This is where art therapy can help. It can access part of the brain that deals with buried emotions, without needing to translate them into words. By working through the emotions of the traumatic experience through the self-expression of art, it offers the person a chance to open up, confront their fears and find peace of mind.
Tackle eating disorders
Eating disorders are very complex and it’s not always easy for a person to understand the underlying causes of the condition. Studies have shown that art therapy can help people suffering from eating disorders by enabling them to discover insights into how they think or deal with situations. The process of art can access untapped thoughts and feelings that may have contributed to an eating disorder, and understanding these may pave the way for tackling the condition and making positive changes.
Art therapy earns its stripes in dealing with a wide range of emotional issues, but it has also shown to be useful for helping to ease the symptoms of some physical problems. In particular, studies demonstrate that people suffering from pain can find improvement from art therapy. This could be because the therapy works as a distraction, but also since the mind and body are inextricably linked. Anything that has a positive effect on the mind can help to heal the body, too.
In many cases, unravelling emotions through the process of creating art can help people to come to terms with an illness, enabling them to see how this may have changed their perception of the world.
Improve cognitive functions
Researchers how proven that art therapy can greatly assist those with cognitive impairment, such as through conditions like dementia, stroke or Parkinson’s disease. This is because creating art stimulates the brain and creates new neural pathways, which can bolster mental functioning. Indeed, one study found that stroke patients who undertook 10 weeks of art therapy a couple of times per week showed significant improvements in their cognition.