Last Updated on February 21, 2023

Art therapy is the use of art and other creative practices to help people improve their mental well-being, emotional state, and physical being.

Dr Paul Symonds
What is art therapy

At its simplest, art therapy is one of the many therapeutic and mental health treatments that support personal and communal goals. It can be used to develop self-esteem, improve communication and dive into inner thoughts.

The latter often helped patients understand subconscious triggers and deal with trauma. But there are many more layers to it.

History of Art Therapy

Art has always been a part of human culture. For thousands of years, it was used to communicate, express, and even resolve conflict.

Indeed, artistic symbols have also long been a part of the healing process.

However, the term art therapy was first used in the 1940s by Adrian Hill, a British artist.

Suffering from tuberculosis, he uncovered the benefits of art, which played a major role in his recovery.

Later that decade, Edith Kramer and Margaret Naumburg helped drive art therapy into the mainstream.

They were pioneers who gave the opportunity for their clients to explore their emotions and life experiences through creativity.

In the case of Margaret Naumburg, she used art therapy primarily on younger people who needed an avenue to express themselves.

Naumburg saw the creative process in line with verbal expression, a way to relieve yourself of the burden of information and repressed emotions.

By doing so, her patients were then able to heal. Her many publications remain in use today and she’s often thought of as the mother of art therapy.

The other aspect of art therapy moves away from the mental and focuses on the physical.

The benefits of art therapy can be seen among young and old people who can use this experience to improve their body awareness along with their fine motor skills.

Art in general has shown the capability of improving hand-eye coordination.

This is achieved through the repetition of the creative art process that allows patients to better connect hand and mind.

What Techniques Are Used in Art Therapy?

Trained art therapists have a firm grasp on the variety of techniques that best suit each patient, along with the wonderful effect creativity can have.

Therapists will combine a range of factors that include psychological, artistic, and spiritual aspects with more traditional clinical techniques to tailor a plan.

Simple paintings are common, alongside randomized doodling and drawing.

These can be especially helpful for non-verbal patients, and those unable to express their inner thoughts or those dealing with post-traumatic experiences.

There are also a number of hands-on techniques, such as molding clay, making pottery, and creating cards and textiles.

These can help explore people’s ability to focus on the task at hand, improve bodily awareness and fine-tune the muscles in each hand.

How Can Art Therapy Help You and Others?

Art therapy painting

We’ve spoken about what art therapy is and the process, but how can it help you or people you are looking to help?

Art therapy can certainly help you, along with your friends and family in a number of ways.

If you are looking into this process though, you should keep a few things in mind to start with. One of them is the prevalent use of the term “art therapy”.

At its simplest level, people can use art to work on stress, improve their focus and enjoy the health benefits that come with a challenging yet rewarding hobby.

If you are serious about helping others by providing art therapy, then it is worth considering getting certification as an art therapist.

Getting Trained as an Art Therapist

To be the best possible provider of art therapy, I recommend undertaking some type of art therapy qualification.

The UK, USA, and Australian Art Therapy Associations, for example, provide qualifications in their respective countries.

Similar art therapy organizations exist in a number of countries worldwide.

Alternatively, think about doing an online art therapy course to get a Certificate in Initiatic Art Therapy.

If you are interested in learning more about art therapy and getting training or getting involved in some way, here are some useful resources below:

Once you have covered both the creative and psychological elements that are involved in the process of art therapy, you will be in a good position to start helping others.

With art being so universal, a well-curated program can help clients suffering from a range of ailments.

Benefits of Art Therapy

Being creative is not only a great way to express yourself but also to learn to regulate impulses and emotions.

This can lead to greater confidence and self-control. Regulation can also lead to improved behavior adjustments.

The benefits of art therapy also include improved perception.

This is a common starting point in many therapeutic approaches and helps you make a connection between your emotion and physical reaction.

Indeed, the benefits of art therapy can include helping with issues such as depression, family or relationship concerns, substance abuse, ADD, eating disorders, and cognitive impairments.

Art provides a chance to explore personal choices in a safe way, giving each patient the opportunity to use a variety of decision-making.

Art therapy can also be used for cognitive development among younger school-aged kids, along with older citizens.

Art activities as a whole are fantastic for younger kids, and teach them how to plan, create and problem-solve. It is also a back door to concentration, a chance to focus on the task at hand and create something that they will then be proud of.

Older patients suffering from a range of ailments, including dementia, can also benefit from art therapy.

The Brain, Art, and Motor Skills

Art itself requires the use of both sides of our brain, being the logical and creative sides, and can help with brain plasticity and resilience.

Art therapy also requires the use of fine motor skills, with the opportunity for people to improve or regain touch.

Furthermore, imagination and memory are closely linked with studies showing art’s ability to grow our sense of imagination and therefore our ability to keep precious memories.

Art therapy doesn’t have to be used with the aim of curing issues, whether they are mental or physical.

This form of therapy is a wonderful way to express our emotions with the aim of lightening our mood rather than finding our subconscious problems.

This is pertinent to those suffering from major illnesses, such as cancer. Here, the issue is obvious, yet art therapy still has a role to play.

Major illness can evoke intense emotions and art therapy can provide for a more enjoyable existence.

Studies have found art therapy to improve confidence, relationships, and even loss of sleep.

This then flows into a greater focus on positive life experiences, self-esteem, and identity. Art can help redefine how we see ourselves.