Art therapy is the use of artistic methods to aid treatment for psychological disorders and improve mental health. It is a technique that is rooted in the idea that creative expression can encourage mental healing and well-being.
Of course, art has been used throughout history for communication and self-expression but art therapy as a concept was not formalised until the 1940s. It wasn’t until this time that doctors noted individuals living with mental illnesses often used drawings and other artworks as a form of self-expression. This realisation led to many studies into the use of art as a healing strategy. Thus, the idea that a creative outlet can offer a significant contribution to mental healing has been accepted in the medical community for a very long time. In fact, art therapy has technically been used clinically for well over a century and has been recognised as a profession since 1991. However it is only in more recent years, beginning in the year 2000, that systematic and controlled studies have been examined to determine the medical healing benefits of art therapy.
These studies would be conducted throughout the early 2000s (and are still being examined even today), as creative activities were presented and examined in various categories of patients. This included patients dealing with cancer and other medical conditions such as heart failure, mental health, trauma victims, prison inmates, the elderly, women undergoing fertility treatment and people who were struggling with ongoing daily challenges. Though these studies were perhaps a little generalised, the findings were largely encouraging, as there were clear and obvious indications that artistic engagement had significantly positive effects on the mental state of these patients. Though there are, of course, limitations to these studies and there is still much more investigation to be done, more in depth studies and practice of art therapy are continuing to expand and flourish and art therapy is now used as an official medical technique in the public health field.
In the more recent developments of this technique, the main objective of using art therapy is to utilise the creative process to help people delve into a form of self-expression and, in doing so, discover new ways to examine your personal experiences. This helps to develop new skills that can be used as coping mechanisms for certain psychological conditions such as anxiety, depression, emotional trauma, anger management, post-traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse. With a more recent understanding, art therapy has been proven to help explore repressed emotions and in doing so develops self-awareness, boosts self-esteem and even aids the development of social skills. It is theorised that as people create art, they begin to analyse and reflect on what they have created and how it makes them feel. Through this exploration, individuals are able to identify themes and conflicts that may be having negative effects on their thoughts, emotions and behaviours and this can then be addressed and worked through with the help of medical professionals. According to a 2016 study published in the Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, even less than an hour of creative engagement has been seen to have a positive effect on mental health, and this remained the same regardless of artistic experience, skill or talent.
Of course, art therapy is not the cure for everything. It is also something that takes time and effort and is not always the answer for everyone. However, when applied correctly it can be extremely beneficial to psychological and emotional well-being. So this month, take the time to reflect on and look after your mental health whilst enjoying being creative with this box’s #ScrawlrChallenge.