Art Therapy

4 mins read

Art therapy is a therapeutic procedure which focuses on mental health improvement through art. It falls under the lines of psychotherapy. Art therapy is defined by The British Association of Art therapists and The American Art Therapy Association as a therapeutic form which uses non verbal mode of communication or art to cure illness, mental trauma, behavioral issues and neurological problems, improve mental health and enhance personality. There are many other definitions existing which imply the same.

What is Art Therapy? Where did it originate?
Art therapy originated in the 19th century in the European countries for the cure of psychiatric conditions through art making. Adrian Hill, a British artist was the one to coin the term ‘Art Therapy’ for this form of psychological procedure in 1942. He discovered the effects of painting and drawing on his own self during his treatment of tuberculosis and also wrote a book on it in 1945 by the name ‘Art versus Illness’. After World War 2, Edward Adamson, an artist, carried over the works of Adrian Hill by joining him.

How is Art Therapy beneficial?
Art Therapy is used as a form of healing and also for personality development. Below is a list of conditions where art therapy is beneficial:

  • Physical, mental, emotional problems
  • Personality disorders
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Sleep disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress
  • Chronic illness
  • Sexually abused patients
  • Survivors of natural disasters
  • Children with psychological problems
  • Old people with aging problems and stress
  • Many more

It helps the subjects by reducing pain and stress related to these conditions. When the patients get occupied with simple forms of art such as drawing, painting, collage, clay model making etc., they are distracted from the essence of pain.

Are there any studies/research on its efficacy?
There are many studies performed on the efficacy on art therapy since 2001. An international conference was also done recently in China on Art Therapy.  Some of them are listed below:

  • Measurement of the cortisol has showed effects of art therapy on the stress levels and anxiety (Walsh et al, 2007).
  • Stimulation of cognitive function in the patients having dementia related conditions has been recorded.
  • Children with asthma have shown reduction of anxiety after art therapy.
  • Reduction of depression and fatigue levels has been studied in cancer patients (Bar-Sela et al, 2007).
  • Engaging patients in art making have showed improvement in dealing with pain perception and mental disturbances during illness and its cure.
  • A study was done on prison mates in 2009 by David Gussaik to see improvement in their moods after art therapy.

 How is it done?
Art therapy is done in a simple room where the therapists gather all the art making tools such as paint, pencil, drawing papers, colored pencils, clay, posters, photos, chalks etc.,

  • The patient is allowed to pick any of the tools provided as per their interest and sometimes the therapist may suggest the tool of selection.
  • There are no rules on what to make, how to make or how many to make.
  • An average of one hour is given to the patient to make whatever they wish to artistically create.
  • At last both the patient and the therapist have a verbal interaction on the creation so as to explore and understand what he/she has made and to express their feelings about the creation.

How can you get started with this?
Art therapists are qualified and licensed professionals who conduct Art therapy for a group of people and also individually.

  • Art therapy services are being provided by hospitals, rehabilitation centers, schools, nursing homes, foster homes, community centers, wellness centers, institutions, corporate structures.
  • Independent practitioners are also available.

Any precautions, contraindications, interactions
In Art Therapy, it is the mental wellness which is taken into count. Here, the patient who is being considered for art therapy has to be studied for the previous traumas as sometimes the therapy may bring out the hidden pain and sorrow. Hence it is very important to ground ourselves into a solid therapeutic alliance before the commencement of the therapy.


1. Bar-Sela G, Atid L, Danos S, Gabay N, Epelbaum R. Art therapy improved depression and influenced fatigue levels in cancer patients on chemotherapy. Psychooncology. 2007 Nov;16(11):980-4. PubMed PMID: 17351987.

2. Ullan AM, Belver MH, Badia M, Moreno C, Garrido E, Gomez-Isla J,Gonzalez-Ingelmo E, Delgado J, Serrano I, Herrero C, Manzanera P, Tejedor L. Contributions of an artistic educational program for older people with earlydementia: an exploratory qualitative study. Dementia (London). 2013Jul;12(4):425-46. doi: 10.1177/1471301211430650. Epub 2012 Jan 13. PubMed PMID:24336953.

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