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  • Writer's pictureAshton Rose

Art Therapy: Using Art for Mental Health

You’ve probably already heard of art therapy. It’s when you do art for therapy, right? Simple? Well, it can mean a lot more than that, and it’s more than just a hypothetical: it can have a lot of very real benefits that can help people in many situations.

Art is a way to express yourself, to work through feelings, and to create, which is something a lot of humans value doing. So it makes sense that it could be good for mental health.

It also makes sense, at least somewhat, that there may be a correlation between creativity and mental illness. Since art is a great way to deal with troubling thoughts, people who struggle with mental health problems will gravitate more toward it.

Writing can also work in a similar way to art therapy. Indeed, last week I talked about how journaling can be very helpful. But for this post, I’m going to focus on the visual arts.

What is art therapy?

Very simply, art therapy is when you use art as a form of therapy. It means doing art to better your mental health, and perhaps to work through something you’re struggling with.

And really, that’s all it is. Art therapy doesn’t have to be any more complex than that.

One of the best benefits of art therapy is that skill level doesn’t matter. You can absolutely suck at drawing, and still have a good time with art therapy. The final product doesn’t matter: it’s the act of making it that counts.

Lastly, art therapy is often done with a therapist. And this can be a great way to do it, because they can help you figure out whatever you need to. But you don’t have to do it with a therapist. You can do it by yourself, in a group, or even with loved ones.

How is it different from an art class?

You may be wondering why art therapy is important if art class can do the same thing. Well, here’s the answer: they are very different.

An art class is focused on teaching you to improve your artistic skills. It teaches you forms, techniques, terminology, and gives you an opportunity to practice until you get better. It is also usually focused on the final product; in an art class, you want to make something that looks good.

But using art for mental health is entirely different. The final product (usually) doesn’t matter, it’s the process. Instead of focusing on form and technique and getting better, you’re focusing on doing what feels right to you, no matter the outcome.

So if you’re looking for the benefits of art therapy, know that it’s very different from an art class, and the two are not interchangeable.

Types of art therapy

Art therapy doesn’t have hard-set “types”. Practically any form of art, visual or otherwise, can be used as art therapy. Here are a few common forms it might take:

  • Drawing

  • Painting

  • Coloring pages

  • Sculpting with clay

  • Paper mache

  • Charcoal

  • And more!

The best thing is, you can do art therapy in whatever way you want. So whichever type of art you like, you can still get the benefits of art therapy.

The benefits of art therapy

I won’t bore you with the art and mental health statistics. But it is important to know that art therapy has a lot of benefits, and can help you with nearly anything mental health-related.

For starters, art therapy is often used to help with a variety of mental illnesses and similar problems. It can help work through thoughts related to these illnesses, as well as with processing and acknowledging symptoms.

Some of the common things art therapy can help with are:

  • Anxiety

  • Depression/depressive symptoms

  • Anxiety/panic attacks

  • PTSD

But that’s not all the benefits of art therapy. One of its most important aspects is that it gives you a way to process your thoughts and feelings. Whether these are daily stressors, intrusive thoughts, symptoms of illness, or something else, it’s important to have a way to work through them.

Using art to work through these things makes them easier to deal with, and gives you a new way of talking about them. It’s one of the best ways to use art for mental health.

Art also gives you a chance to be creative, which is something nearly all humans love, in one form or another. Creativity is what built our society, and we enjoy getting to be creative every now and then.

On top of processing feelings, art therapy also gives people a way to talk about what they can’t find the words for. It’s commonly used with soldiers who have PTSD, and can help all sorts of people who don’t know how to talk about their struggles.

Lastly, in a time where many of us are still distancing from others, art gives us something to do, and something we can show— or even give to— others later. It’s a form of therapy that doesn’t carry the risk of infection.

Using art for yourself

At the end of the day, art therapy is just another tool that you can add to your belt, and then use it in whatever way best suits you. Many of the benefits of art therapy apply to everyone, and it can be done with a therapist, by yourself, or with someone else.

And remember why art therapy is important: because you can do something for you, in whatever way you like. It gives you an opportunity to just be creative and work through feelings, and who couldn’t benefit from that?

Do you have other ideas about art therapy? Questions? We’d love to hear from you! Leave a comment below or find us on social media (@therapeutichealingjourney on Instagram and @llctherapeutic on Twitter).

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