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What Is Art Therapy?

Art is one of the earliest forms of human communication. With petroglyphs, cave paintings, and other incredible pieces that can be found in museums today, art informs us about the lives that were lived long ago. Art also shows the feelings, expressions, and traditions that were held in high regard during a particular time period.

Today, people still use art as a creative way to tell a story and express how the person viewing it should feel. Art therapy does the opposite, focusing on the artist’s feelings and what the artist is trying to communicate about themselves.

The History of Art Therapy

When seeking therapy that does not always require words, art therapy can be the answer for divergent minds. According to Mental Illness Journal, art therapy was first introduced in 1942 by Adrian Hill, a therapist who recognized the benefit that art can have on mental health. Art therapy is an excellent way to express yourself, process your feelings, and challenge or engage with your innermost thoughts.

Before the structure and proper use of art therapy, art was used for moral reinforcement and psychoanalysis. Today, art therapy is used to help patients express and process their feelings, wants, and needs. Most people who are prescribed art therapy are being treated for chronic illness (such as cancer), physical injury, mental health disorders, and addiction. Art therapy is an effective way to cope with the things that are out of your control, although it can be difficult to find medical professionals and treatment facilities who use it.

Objectives of Art Therapy

Art is often subjective to the viewer, which can also be true for art therapy. The main difference between art and art therapy is that the interpretation of art is about the viewer, while art therapy is about what the artist is communicating. Art therapy does come with objectives that are individualized to the artist. According to the American Art Therapy Association, some of these objectives include:

  • Fostering self-esteem in the artist by improvement or skill
  • Fostering self-awareness in the artist by observing what they communicate with their art
  • Cultivating emotional resilience through the therapeutic communication of their art
  • Improving cognitive and sensory-motor functions in the artist
  • Promoting insight for the artist to explore their mental health and worldview
  • Enhancing social skills in the artist as they use art to communicate more boldly
  • Reducing and resolving conflicts and distress through art

Art Therapy’s Effectiveness

Art therapy, though considered very effective, can be hard to find. Few facilities in the United States offer art therapy. To help change that, a study published in Frontiers in Psychology took a comprehensive look at the effectiveness of art therapy and changes made in the field in recent years. Researchers found many differences in the effectiveness of art therapy, based on the groups of people participating in it.

  • Clients with extreme medical conditions: Art therapy is highly effective in this group. Cancer patients were able to express their feelings through art and cope with the psychological symptoms of treatment and diagnosis of cancer. Art therapy also increased their quality of life.
  • Clients with lesser medical conditions: Patients with physical injuries such as a torn muscle or broken bone were able to communicate their feelings and enjoyed quality time creating art as they healed. Art therapy is moderately effective in this group.
  • Clients with mental health issues: Mental health issues vary widely in their needs for treatment, and art therapy was not as effective as other therapies like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or psychotherapy. Although, art therapy can help people with mental health issues to communicate their feelings, talking through those feelings, and identifying solutions.
  • Clients with trauma: Art therapy is somewhat effective for processing trauma, as that trauma can be communicated through art. However, CBT and other talk therapies are more effective for processing and healing from trauma.
  • Prison inmates: Art therapy was proven effective in helping prison inmates communicate their feelings and easing particularly long sentences.
  • The elderly: Art therapy was proven to be moderately effective for the elderly to communicate feelings, tell stories, and pass time.
  • People with daily challenges: Art therapy is highly effective for people with daily challenges to mitigate issues like family life, work struggles, relationships, and more.

Another study published in the Journal of Addictions Nursing reports that art therapy is highly effective for people who suffer from addiction and substance use disorders, especially those in treatment and recovery. Art therapy helps them reduce shame, express their feelings, and gain self-awareness of how addiction affects their lives.

Art therapy is an undervalued form of therapy that can help a myriad of people. The people who benefit the most from art therapy are often communicating their thoughts and feelings through art. For people who struggle with addiction, art therapy can be an excellent way to cope and become more aware of those thoughts and feelings. If you need help managing and recovering from your substance use disorder, RECO Intensive is here to help. At RECO Intensive, we understand that addiction is extremely difficult to overcome alone. Our professional staff and experienced alumni can create a treatment plan that is specifically catered to your needs. We offer many different types of therapy, including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), adventure therapy, family therapy, and the often elusive art therapy. We believe that creative expression can help you get through treatment and recovery. To learn more, call us today at (561) 464-6533. Let’s get back to a brighter future. 

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