Why Can Art Therapy Be Effective?

One of the many forms of therapy offered at Delray Beach IOP is expressive arts therapy. Art therapy is defined by the American Art Therapy association as “an integrative mental health and human services profession that enriches the lives of individuals, families, and communities through active art-making, creative process, applied psychological theory, and human experience within a psychotherapeutic relationship.”

In other words, while many creative projects can be therapeutic, the term art therapy refers to a specific structured process led by a professional, which has the specific goal of leading its patients through a healing creative process. Rather than being about artistic talent or producing “good” artistic work, art therapy is about the process of artistic expression and what it reveals about the patient’s inner life, as well as what emotional benefits it may provide to the patient. 

Mediums like painting, drawing, sculpting, photography, or collaging are used by therapists to help clients delve into their emotions, as symbols present in clients artwork can be revealing of their innermost thoughts and feelings, even of feelings that the client is not conscious of themselves or has difficulty verbalizing. 

The therapist will use the artwork to analyze those emotions and to engage their client in discussion about them, which can lead the client towards new insights. This process can help patients to develop self awareness, appropriate coping skills, and emotional resilience, while also giving people a physical and mental outlet that may improve their cognitive and sensory motor function. 

Art therapy can be used alone or in conjunction with other forms of therapy, and can be used to treat a variety of mental illnesses or to help a patient work through a history of trauma. Studies done on adults who have experienced trauma have shown that it can be effective in reducing their symptoms and depression levels, while one done on older adults living in nursing homes found reduced depression and increased self esteem. 

Art therapy has also been found to be effective in increasing quality of life and reducing negative psychological symptoms in cancer patients, as well as to provide benefits to people suffering from other chronic illnesses like heart disease or those undergoing regular hemodialysis.

Aside from art therapy, even more casual creative expression has been shown to increase positive emotions in those who engage in it, and it has also been shown that even appreciating art can offer mental health benefits. For instance, art that is displayed in hospitals has been shown in studies to make patients feel safer there and to improve their ability to socialize and sense of identity as more than just a patient. 

And, along with the visual form of art therapy that this article primarily refers to, other forms of expressive art therapy may instead utilize drama, dance, music, or writing as mediums used in a similar way to help a patient to explore and express their feelings and experiences. 

While all of these endeavors are about process rather than product, harnessing raw and painful emotions and experiences into a tangible and even beautiful object can help patients to see them as valuable and to integrate them into a redemptive narrative of their recovery.

This can be a powerful part of the healing process and a patient’s journey to holistic wellness, which we are inspired to offer to our patients at Delray Beach IOP. To learn more about art therapy and all of the other services we offer in our Delray Beach intensive outpatient program, feel free to reach out to us at 833.637.033 or online here.