Everyone has some secret little hobby that helps them relax and unwind. For some, it’s writing, for others, it’s reading books. Some people find that organizing their belongings has a similar effect on their minds and helps them declutter their thoughts. While others find doing laundry and dishes therapeutic. For a lot of people, art is also a form of therapy. They find that coloring and sketching can help them unwind.
The effects of art therapy on mental health patients are still under research but experts are convinced of its positive outcomes. Various therapists have begun employing art therapy for depression and other mental-health-related treatments after encouraging results were observed amongst cancer patients, prison inmates, mental health patients, trauma survivors, the elderly, and others who have difficulty dealing with everyday life.
This article discusses what art therapy is, if it works, its benefits, and its efficiency in treating depression and mental health disorders, along with simple and easy art therapy ideas for depression and mental health.
What is Art Therapy?
Art therapy is a relatively new form of treatment introduced in the mental health departments to help patients cope with debilitating symptoms of depression. Contrary to what people believe, art therapy is not an art class. It doesn’t focus on teaching you the ins and outs of art, nor does a person have to be good at art to benefit from it.
Art therapy is simply a method of self-expression. It operates as a creative outlet to allow patients to dispense their self-destructive energies creatively, ultimately leading to self-discovery. The American Art Therapy Association (AATA) defines art therapy as:
An active art-making, creative process, applied psychological theory, and human experience within a psychotherapeutic relationship.’— AATA
How Does Art Therapy Work?
Art therapy is conducted by professionals trained in the domains of art and therapy. It is suitable for people of all ages and can be modified into individual, family, group, or couples sessions according to what the patient needs. The goal of art therapy is to use the imagination, the process, the thoughts, and the artwork created as a remedial and therapeutic process by encouraging clients to explore their creative faculties and translate their emotions and thoughts into creativity.
Art therapy works by fostering self-awareness, self-esteem, social skills, and the improvement of the overall well-being of clients by offering them a comfortable and safe environment to express their feelings to feel more in control of their emotions.
Art Therapy for Depression and Mental Health
Depression requires a combination of therapy and medication to ensure a full recovery. Most of the treatments for depression follow a similar dynamic of self-expression, self-discovery, and finding creative ways to expend negative energy. Since art therapy focuses on enhancing the same abilities in patients, it is frequently employed by therapists as a coping strategy for depression and other mental health disorders.
A study conducted by researchers at National Jewish Health in Denver on children with asthma dealing with mental health problems like stress and anxiety due to their physical illness found that art therapy considerably improved their symptoms of anxiety and stress.
Another study from 2014, conducted by an art therapist at Drexel University showed that after a 45-minute session of art therapy, 75% of the participants were tested to find decreased levels of cortisol — a stress hormone, high levels of which are a contributing factor of developing depression — in their systems right after art therapy.
These studies, although preliminary, offer great insight into the potential benefits of employing art therapy for depression and other mental health treatments.
Art Therapy: Benefits
The healing power of art has always been accepted widely by artists and art enthusiasts, but it is only recently that it has paved its way into an evidence-based therapy for treating various mental health issues. Art therapy has displayed promising results in the treatment of the following conditions:
- Stress and anxiety.
- Eating disorders (alongside other treatments).
- Substance use disorders (alongside standard treatment).
- Post-traumatic stress disorder PTSD.
- Childhood trauma, etc.
Studies also suggest that art therapy can encourage improvement in managing stress, social skills, self-awareness, self-esteem, self-expression, etc.
Art Therapy Ideas for Mental Health
It’s easy to think that art is limited to painting and drawing, but that is not true. There’s a lot of activities you can take on, with advice and help from your therapist. Art therapy doesn’t have to be something you dread, you can choose whatever medium you enjoy the most. It could be anything from painting, to scrapbooks, vision boards, knitting, carving, pottery, and more.
We have compiled a list of activities and art therapy ideas for depression and mental health that you can easily incorporate into your routine, whether with help of a therapist or individually.
Draw Your Emotions
It sounds absurd when you hear someone say draw your emotions. But it’s not really that strange. Oftentimes, the things we draw are our thoughts and feelings being translated into a creative form onto paper. If you’re someone who has a hard time expressing yourself, showing emotion through art can help a great deal. Draw whatever you associate with different emotions. For instance, if you’re feeling angry and you associate the red color with it, you would draw red objects.
Use Nature as Your Muse
If you’re an outdoorsy person who appreciates nature, you can incorporate that into your art therapy activities as well by painting or drawing the outside or taking a walk in the park and painting the things you saw that made you feel happy, or the things that made you sad from memory. Another fun little activity you can do is collect items from nature that seem interesting to you; such as rocks and pebbles; and draw on those!
Create an Art Journal
Studies suggest journaling is a brilliant method for improving mental health and mood. Many people associate journaling with ‘writing’, but creating an art journal can be fun and relaxing too. Create pages that reflect your emotions by pasting cut-outs of images that remind you of certain emotions. You can focus on different themes for different pages like gratitude, comforts, fears, etc., and experiment with new things as you go!
Create an Emotion Wheel
Art therapists often assign clients to create emotion wheels. Drawing a circle, dividing it into sections with an emotion assigned to each section. You can color them according to what color you associate with the feeling. This activity can help you determine your hidden feelings about a certain thing and let you become more self-aware. You can ask yourself questions like which emotion did I write first and why? Which of these emotions am I feeling right now?
Draw or Colour a Mandala
Mandalas are considered meditation tools in the East. Counselors and mental health therapists encourage clients to include mandala art in their art therapy. The different shapes and symbols can reflect your inner self and allow you to understand and control the powerful emotions inside. Mandala coloring books are very common nowadays, you can grab them from your nearest stationery store or create your own mandalas!
Create Art in Response to Something
A quote, a poem, a paragraph, a saying; we all have something of the sort that we feel represents us, that is close to us. They may be a source of happiness to us or maybe a pain. Creating response art entails answering whatever it is that particular thing makes you feel through art and creativity. It can foster problem-solving and critical thinking skills within you and allow you to come up with methods and courage to deal with your problems yourself.
Use a Colouring Book
Coloring is something a lot of people find therapeutic. There is something relaxing about focusing on coloring a drawing making sure to keep within the lines. Coloring can have a soothing effect on the amygdala, the fear center of the brain, producing an effect similar to that of meditation, allowing your restless brain to relax and unwind after a tiring day.
Experiment With Photography
Photography can serve as a medium of expression. Sometimes, words just cannot do justice to what you’re feeling. Sometimes you simply cannot form into words whatever emotion you’re feeling. Photography is a form of art that can help with that, just like painting and drawing can. Photography can help you look at life from different and new perspectives, functioning as a breath of freshness.
Draw Something That Comforts You
We all have comfort foods, comfort clothes, comfort books, comfort people that we can be ourselves around with no fear of anything. Perhaps you can be creative with the things you find comfort in. Draw or paint a picture of something that makes you feel secure. Dedicate a page in your art journal to your comfort objects. Maybe collect all your comfort objects and create a comfort corner somewhere in your house, decorating it any way you like!
Draw a Portrait of How You See Yourself
If drawing portraits is your thing and you find comfort in it, a fun art therapy activity could include drawing a self-portrait. But here’s the catch, this portrait doesn’t have to be a mirror image of you. It should represent how you see yourself. Perhaps, if you’re feeling extra inspired and keen on going on a self-exploration journey, you could spice up this activity by creating a portrait of you in the past, the present you, and the future you — your aspirations and dreams.
Art is not something only artists can finesse. Art is for everyone. No one is good or bad at art. Art is merely a language of self-expression. Showing emotion through art is the same as showing emotion through literature and writing. So to answer the question, if art therapy really works? Yes, it shows great potential of being beneficial in the treatment of many mental disorders alongside standard treatments of course. Art therapy for depression can be really useful in allowing patients to reflect on their inner selves and devising ways to cope with their fears on their own through creativity and imagination.