Learn more about art therapy for mental health

Expressing oneself in the creative arts can be a powerful way to explore emotions, cope with stress, connect with others, and heal from trauma. But you might not know that an entire discipline in psychology is dedicated to creativity and mental health recovery.

Enter art therapy, an exciting field that uses artistic endeavors to treat mental illness and help people lead full and balanced lives.

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What Is Art Therapy?

According to the American Psychological Association, art therapy is “a vehicle for developing new insights and understandings, resolving conflicts, solving problems, and formulating new perceptions to achieve positive changes, growth, and rehabilitation.”

Art therapy may involve direct participation in the arts, such as painting, drawing, sculpting, collaging, or writing. It may also involve observing works of arts or collaborating with therapists on art projects.

The best part? A background in the arts is not necessary to participate in art therapy.

How Is Art Therapy Used for Mental Health?

The American Art Therapy Association describes art therapy as a profession that “enriches the lives of individuals, families, and communities through active art-making.”

Art therapy patients work with licensed, professionally trained therapists who specialize in integrating the arts with different types of therapy, such as psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, group therapy, and rehabilitation therapy.

According to research published in Frontiers in Psychology, art therapists can treat many psychological symptoms, including anxiety and depression. The researchers cite evidence that art therapy can successfully help patients who are recovering from the psychological impacts of cancer treatment. Their research also shows that art therapy can reduce trauma symptoms, making art therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder a promising field.

What Are Some Examples of an Art Therapy Treatment Plan?

Depending on your mental health needs, your art therapist will devise a treatment plan that works for you. An art therapy session may involve you choosing an art medium to work in and then making art. Your therapist will spend a period of time observing you, usually followed by a discussion about how you felt as you engaged with the art. Your therapist will tailor an ongoing treatment plan based on your response to the art-making and suggest options that may be useful going forward.

Where Do Art Therapists Practice?

Art therapists work in a variety of settings, including:

  • Private practice
  • Hospitals and psychiatric facilities
  • Rehabilitation centers
  • Schools and community centers
  • Senior centers
  • Veteran centers

How Does Creativity Help Mental Health?

If you have participated in creative art, you may have experienced a feeling of “release” as your creative juices flow. This is one of many ways that the arts allow participants to tap into their emotions and gain a better understanding of what they are struggling with, as well as what they need to grow and, for some, heal.

According to the American Art Therapy Association, art therapy involves the body, the mind, and the spirit. Unlike traditional therapy, it doesn’t rely solely on verbal communication, but integrates kinesthetic, perceptual, and sensory approaches into the therapeutic discovery process. This can offer a broader, more detailed picture of a patient’s psychological state.

What Are the Benefits of Art Therapy?

A 2017 study published in the International Journal of Qualitative Studies on Health and Well-being found that integrating principles of art therapy in a hospital setting gave patients a feeling of safety. Because many art forms are collaborative in nature, art therapy offers patients an opportunity to socialize and connect with the outside world.

For patients who may be reluctant to express themselves, art therapy provides an outlet to delve into more complex emotions. Combining art with therapy is an open-ended, creative, and exciting way to connect with yourself, build self-confidence and resilience, reduce stress, and address your mental health.

And you never know — you just may unlock an artistic talent you didn’t know you had.

To learn more about creative and expressive art therapy at UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital, call 412-624-2100.

American Art Therapy Association. Definition of Profession. https://www.arttherapy.org/upload/2017_DefinitionofProfession.pdf

American Psychological Association. APA Dictionary of Psychology. http://dictionary.apa.org/art-therapy

Frontiers in Psychology. Effectiveness of Art Therapy With Adult Clients in 2018—What Progress Has Been Made? https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01531/full

Journal International Journal of Qualitative Studies on Health and Well-being. How do patients actually experience and use art in hospitals? The significance of interaction: a user-oriented experimental case study. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/17482631.2016.1267343

About UPMC Western Behavioral Health

UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital is the hub of UPMC Behavioral Health, a network of community-based programs providing specialized mental health and addiction care for children, adolescents, adults, and seniors. Our mission is to provide comprehensive, compassionate care to people of all ages with mental health conditions. UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital is a nationally recognized leader in mental health clinical care, research, and education. It is one of the nation’s foremost university-based psychiatric care facilities through its integration with the Department of Psychiatry of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. We are here to help at every stage of your care and recovery.