Art therapy: Creating For Therapeutic Purposes

What is art therapy?

Art therapy is the use of the creative process for therapeutic purposes. In this article, you will discover this practice in more detail, its principles, its history, the different ways of doing art therapy, the benefits of this practice, who practices it, how a session takes place and how to become an art therapist. ?

Art therapy is a form of psychotherapy that uses artistic creation (drawing, painting, collage, sculpture, etc.) to get in touch with one’s inner life (feelings, dreams, unconscious, etc.), to express it, and to transform. This practice is widespread in the health sector. 

It is used as a mode of intervention in psychotherapy, particularly in subjects who have difficulty expressing what they feel through words, with young children as well as in physiotherapy to develop better self-confidence and promote rehabilitation.

In addition, some schools of thought consider that art therapy can go beyond psychotherapy and have broader humanitarian and therapeutic aims. It would help people who are sick, disabled, or struggling with chronic pain or motor problems, for example.

The main principles

In art therapy, the goal of the process is not artistic. We are not concerned with the quality or appearance of the final work, the therapeutic approach consists in gradually letting our inner images emerge, which can be as much the reflection of past experiences as of dreams to which we aspire. The creative gesture calls on the body to move to create a concrete work. 

In the same spirit, it appeals to the imagination, intuition, thought, and emotions. The images or forms thus created, in addition to revealing certain aspects of oneself, can generate a vision and new behaviors that will contribute to physical, emotional, or spiritual healing.

One of the interesting aspects of art therapy is that, unlike speech, the images remain and serve as a common thread. 

For example, a person undergoing therapy with the goal of resolving a conflicting relationship may initially “paint the pain” they are feeling. Gradually, she will manage to paint a renewed picture of the situation and will finally be able to see an unprecedented solution taking shape. 

The role of the therapist is not to interpret the creative work, but to support the subject in his transformation and to accompany him from one artistic production to another so that he arrives at greater clarity.

Coloring, the flagship discipline of art therapy

Long reserved for children, coloring books for adults have appeared on the market in recent years. This success can be explained by the fact that coloring is easy to access, and that it does not require any technical knowledge. 

In addition, it is affordable because it is inexpensive. Coloring is an activity that promotes concentration and allows you to let go and stop thinking about anything. It is in this that it is deeply anti-stress. 

Some specialists even believe that the effects of coloring could be similar to those of meditation. Many clues about the internal life of the individual can emerge following coloring: the colors used, the type of line…

Other arts to choose from

Theater

The theatrical expression can be used as art therapy. The exercises are very varied. For example, the use of puppets will allow the individual to project and communicate indirectly about himself. Other exercises can consist of meeting your “inner self”, putting memory on the stage, and telling your own story… Whether it’s to get to know yourself better or to unload your emotions, theater can be excellent therapy.

The music

Also called music therapy, music therapy is a privileged way to access and release your emotions. We talk about receptive music therapy when the individual listens to music, and active music therapy when the individual creates a musical extract using an instrument. Music therapy is particularly used in autistic and anxious individuals.

Dance

Dance therapy allows individuals to bring out their emotions and express themselves through their bodies. Here, there is no learning but a pure expression. 

Some exercises may consist in expressing one’s anger (the warrior’s dance), and one’s sensuality (the princess’s dance). They allow you to uninhibited and free yourself.

Visual arts

Drawing, painting, collage, pottery, charcoal… There is a multitude of tools for creating and implementing an artistic creation process for therapeutic purposes. It is by observing the way of structuring the space, arranging the forms, using the colors, of associating the ideas that the individual can, with his companion, manage to give meaning to his creation and to his inspire them to make the desired changes in one’s life.

Benefits of art therapy

Although few well-controlled scientific studies have been published on art therapy, here are the main references relating to its effectiveness.

Improving the quality of life of the elderly

A random study with a control group was conducted with 40 people aged 70 to 97 years. The results reveal that an art therapy intervention based on the observation of works of art improves emotional well-being and various physiological parameters (blood pressure, fatigue, pain, etc.). 

In another study, people aged 60 to 86 took part, for 1 month, in one of the following 3 approaches: theater sessions, discussions based on works of visual art, or no intervention18. The elderly who took the theater sessions significantly improved their cognitive functions and their psychological well-being compared to the other 2 groups, and these improvements were maintained after 4 months.

Help cancer patients 

In 2010, 2 reviews concluded that an art therapy approach could be beneficial for people suffering from cancer, at several levels of the disease progression. 

Among the articles reviewed, a few results showed a decrease in patients’ levels of anxiety and depression, an improvement in their quality of life, as well as positive effects on their personal growth, their ability to cope with the disease, and their interaction social. 

Positive effects of art therapy (reduction of anxiety and stress) have also been observed with family caregivers.

Reduce stress and anxiety

According to the results of a randomized study conducted with 36 nursing students, an art therapy session including drawing, painting, writing, and collage could be beneficial in reducing stress and anxiety and promoting emotions. positive.

Helping people with post-traumatic stress disorder

The author of a scientific article bringing together case studies and a few clinical studies has studied the contribution of art therapy to the treatment of post-traumatic stress. 

According to the researcher, art therapy could help people, whether they are victims or witnesses, to better manage all their physical, cognitive, emotional, and behavioral post-traumatic stress symptoms.

Help children with asthma 

In 2010, a clinical study was carried out with 22 children suffering from asthma. It observed that children receiving a weekly art therapy session for 7 weeks showed a decrease in anxiety levels and an improvement in their quality of life. It should be noted that this study was not intended to reduce the severity or frequency of asthma attacks.

Art therapy in practice

The specialist

The art therapy specialist can be his own boss or an employee of a private or public structure. Thus, he can therefore practice in different hospital departments, whether in oncology or geriatrics for example. He can also work in a retirement home or at home.

Depending on his specialization, the art therapist has theoretical and practical knowledge of the type of artistic discipline he uses as a medium.

The course of a session

An art therapy session takes place individually or in a group, in a friendly place that more often resembles an art workshop than a therapist’s office. Before undertaking the work of creation, the therapist tries to define the reasons and the objectives which lead the participant to follow a therapy in order to better guide him. 

Then, he gives him technical advice relating to the chosen materials and encourages him to express himself by visually representing what he has decided to invest in.

The duration of therapy is variable. A few sessions may be enough to identify the problem. The therapy can also extend over a larger number of encounters.

Contraindications of art therapy

There are no particular contraindications to the practice of art therapy. This is more on a case-by-case basis, indeed, for example, the paint is not recommended for individuals allergic to its components.

History of art therapy

The application of art for therapeutic purposes is not a new concept. Ancient Greece, like most traditional cultures, considered the arts to have a cathartic and therapeutic effect. 

At the beginning of the 20th century, the Swiss psychiatrist Carl G. Jung (1875-1961) had already experienced the benefits of expression through drawing. He then integrated this approach into his practice.

However, art therapy did not make its official entry into contemporary society until the 1930s. It was first introduced in England and the United States thanks to Margaret Naumburg, a teacher, and psychotherapist recognized as one of the pioneers in the field. 

In Canada, among the therapists who have contributed to the integration of art within the framework of psychiatric treatments, let us mention Martin A. Fisher who founded, in 1967, the Toronto Art Therapy Institute and, in 1977, the Canadian Art Therapy Association.

In France, despite the training programs offered since the 1970s, art therapy is not yet widespread. England is the first European country where the profession was recognized by the Public Health Services, in 1997.

In Germany, insurance covers, in certain cases, the costs of care, while in most other countries Europeans, the work of professional recognition remains to be done.

Image Credit: Photo by Thirdman from Pexels

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