Art therapy for Mental health: The healing power of Art


Art therapy for Mental health: The healing power of Art

Art Therapy for Mental health: The healing power of Art

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"Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life", said Pablo Picasso, a world-renowned artist. Art forms exist, not for mere entertainment purposes, they offer such a wide perspective and therapeutic benefits when it comes to self-growth and personality development, that today they are employed as pyschological interventions in treating patients suffering from various physical ailments and mental disorders.

In this article, ‘Art therapy for Mental health:  The healing power of art’  we shall look into numerous ways in which creativity and art impact our minds. We shall explore how art heals depression, schizophrenia, autism, dementia, and also enables mindfulness, improves cognition, creativity, and hand-eye coordination.

According to Science Direct, creative art therapies like singing, dance, visual art, drama, playing an instrument, writing, etc belong to a category of psychological interventions for treating mental health disorders. The basis of art therapy lies in the fact that it helps people express their repressed emotions creatively and communicate differently with themselves and others instead of bottling up their feelings and emotions.

Art is in our blood

Going back in time, when human beings were primitive and still evolving, there wasn't any form of official language for the early men to communicate. Art, was their only form of expression. The meager knowledge we possess about them is from some of the well known archaeological sites like Bhimbetka, Magura, Altamira, etc.

They used natural elements to make colors and painted various kinds of things on cave walls and rock tablets. Art was their expression, entertainment, and also a medium to pass on knowledge to future generations.

Therefore, it is no exaggeration to say that art is primordial. And it's almost like it is in our DNA.

Art and Memory

As humans, each one of us is unique as is our ability to remember things. We all have unique ways of remembering things. Undoubtedly, there is an intertwined connection between our memory and art. Our brain often associates memories with shapes, colors, symbols, scents, sounds, and many more things.

Art therapy for Mental health: The healing power of Art

When we think of art, we tend to confine ourselves to the notion that it is meant  for artists, professionals alone and ordinary people can't do it. You are totally wrong on that one. For, art belongs to everyone. It's what every tom, dick, and harry can do. It's what you and I could do. Art is not about excellence. It's about self-expression. Remember that your focus should be on expression rather than perfection.  As stated by Ananda Coomaraswamy, “The artist is not a special kind of person; rather each person is a special kind of artist.

It's not always possible for us to express our emotions through words. That's why let yourself be expressed through art. It can be of any form like music, dance, drama, etc. While every art form is cathartic, there is something more special about visual art like drawing, painting, sketching, etc. It lets you speak for yourselves. And it is probably the best way to remove stress and tension from your body. Once you pick a paper and let yourself go with the flow, you would experience the exotic power of catharsis. 

Trying visual art is highly recommended. For, sketching various figures, symbols, and adding colors and shades to them can be a wonderful experience that yanks out your daily boredom, stress, lethargy, and give a sense of calm to your mind. 

I highly suggest and recommend trying this mindfulness coloring book. Working with your hands is one of the best ways to soothe anxiety and eliminate stress. This stunning, pocket-sized coloring book offers a practical exercise in mindfulness that draws on your creativity and hones your focus.

Beautifully illustrated by Emma Farrarons, The Mindfulness Coloring Book is filled with templates for exquisite scenes and intricate, sophisticated patterns, prompting you to meditate on your artwork as you mindfully and creatively fill these pages with color and ease your tension by draining your stress out.

If you already have your art supplies kit, well and good. No need to worry even if you don't have one. You can buy one from the link provided here which redirects you to Amazon. I suggest using Faber Castell My Creative Buddy art supplies kit. It comes with10 Writing Pencils, 12 Jumbo Wax Crayons (90 mm), 8 Fibre-tip Colour Markers, 12 Bi-Colour Pencils, 12 Tempera Paints (10 ml), 15 cm Ruler, 1 Sharpener, 1 Eraser, 1 Synthetic Paintbrush (no.4), White Glue (40 ml), and Child Safe Scissors. It is a great deal because you get so many items at a very low price. It's definitely worth buying.

In this section, ‘Art therapy for Mental health: The healing power of Art’, we shall look into seven ways in which art heals.

1.Art heals Depression and Anxiety

Usually, people suffer from depression due to innumerous reasons. But certain groups or categories of people are more vulnerable than others, to depression.

As we all know, cancer is one of the deadly, obliterating diseases that can break a person from inside out and weaken their will power. The prevailing fatigue accompanied with depression makes it unbearably torturous and excruciating.

Art therapy may not completely kill the cancer but it is certainly known to alleviate the symptoms of depression and anxiety. A study was carried out on 60 cancer patients (who volunteered) to investigate the interventions of art therapy approaches in coping with depression, and anxiety. The participants were divided into two groups of 19 members (experimental group who participated in more than 4 weekly sessions) and 41 members (control group who participated in less than 2 weekly sessions). The members were analyzed using Hospital Anxiety and Depression (HAD) scale and Brief Fatigue Inventory (BFI), prior to and after the end of the study period.

It was found that the depression levels were significantly reduced in the experimental group compared to the control group, suggesting the effectiveness of art therapy in healing depression, while anxiety levels for moderate throughout.

As rightly stated by Thomas Merton, “Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves”.

(RELATED: How to deal with Depression? 8 Ways to cope with Depression)

2. Art therapy and Autism spectrum disorders

Autism is a disorder that affects the brain development, social, emotional, and communication skills of a person suffering from it. It is estimated by WHO that one in every 270 people across the world suffer from autism spectrum disorders.

Amidst darkness there always exists light. Similarly, evidence based psychological interventions like art therapy can actually improve a person’s communication, social skills alongside helping with the repetitive behavioral patterns, thus paving way for improvement and hope.

According to a comprehensive analysis study performed by Science Direct based on numerous studies undertaken from 1985-2012, it was suggested that “art therapy may add to a more flexible and relaxed attitude, a better self-image, improved communication and learning skills in children with autism spectrum disorders.

Enough evidence also shed light on the fact that aromatherapy helps mitigate the primary problem areas: social communicative behavior and repetitive behavior.

3. Schizophrenia and Art therapy

Schizophrenia is a mental health disorder characterized by hallucinations, delusions, perception distortion, loneliness, sadness, hearing peculiar voices, seeing strange figures, trouble thinking, lack of motivation, etc. By just looking at the symptoms, one can say that it is definitely not easy. It must be very tough and agonizing.

What’s more agonizing is the fact that nearly 5-15% of the people still suffer despite taking medication. In an article published in the Cochrane Library, it was noted that art therapy allows exploration of the patients inner world in a non threatening and aesthetic way through the therapeutic intervention of art. It not only improves the cognition of the patient but also aids in a better treatment.

4. Makes you mindful

Nothing can instill in you the power of mindfulness better than art. When we are in our normal and casual state we ignore all the teeny weeny details like the number of cars, trees, people, etc in our vicinity. We are ignorant because we know that they are trivial.

But when you start practicing art, over time and practice, you develop keen observation skills and better insight. And learn to channelize your focus in one particular direction. You'd be able to concentrate effortlessly by eliminating mundane thoughts. 

What you cannot express through words, can sometimes be expressed through art. It is like a direct portal to your subconscious mind. It gives you a better understanding of yourself. For, it is your reflection, after all. 

5. Release of repressed emotions

We have been taught by our society to behave in a particular way. This social conditioning does not let us express our feelings and emotions sometimes. We always look for a sense of ‘belonging’ from the society. Perhaps that’s the main reason why we fear to do or say what we desire. Left with no other alternative, we suppress our emotions. It's a Hobson's choice. 

Art is cathartic. It helps you release your emotions and ease from stress. The tightening effect and physical tension caused by stress can be relieved through art. This catharsis or release of emotions calms your mind, through the attainment of peace.

 Domingo Zapata stated, "By painting, I relax, let go of my demons, and travel to another planet. Through art, I get to create my own world where everything is a little more beautiful". Same is the case all other art forms. They always tend to make this world a better place for you.

6. Improves creativity, hand-eye coordination

Since art involves several activities and actions that require flexing of your brain, it enhances your creativity and inspires innovation. It makes you look at the world from a different point of view, by enabling out-of-the-box thinking. Not only that, it flexes your creative genes. And most importantly, it promotes plasticity (learning potential) of your brain, improves your cognitive reserve, and makes way for an intuitive mind. 

Not only that, art can also improve the hand-eye coordination which is one of the fine motor skills. Poor hand-eye coordination can cause several problems like trouble reading, learning, and even holding things. Fortunately, we have art therapy to take care of things.

(RELATED: Intuition and the Subconscious mind: How to tap into your intuition?)

7. Art in healing Neuro-degenerative diseases

Alzheimer's is the fifth leading cause of death in people aged above 65. People belonging to this age group are vulnerable to Dementia and Alzheimer's. However, more plastic (neuroplastic) brains are better protected from neurodegenerative diseases. 

But, the problem with our brains is that its plasticity decreases when learning stops.  As the popular adage goes, 'If you don't use it you lose it'. 

This suggests that art therapy is the best possible treatment in this regard since it involves constructive thinking. It stimulates their brain and evokes emotions and memories. People who constantly engage in art and creative activities are very less likely to develop cognitive impairment.

Concluding: Art therapy for Mental health: The healing power of Art

If you are wondering where to start from, pause for a moment, and think. Think what soothes you and calms you down. There are innumerous art forms you can choose from. Select the one that fits you best. It doesn’t matter if you are a beginner or an expert. For, the aim is expression not excellence. “Art speaks where words are unable to explain” – Threadless Artist Mathiole

Hope my article, 'Art therapy for Mental health: The healing power of Art', is of assistance. Subscribe to my newsletter and get all updates delivered straight into your inbox.


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