Historically, science and the arts have been viewed as polar opposites. However, scientific research indicates significant evidence for the importance of art, particularly its role in mental health. Art has been shown to alleviate stress, depression, and anxiety in people of all ages, from young children to older adults.
Art therapy is an evidence-based mental health profession. It is also a form of psychotherapy that enables clients to channel emotions through various mediums. While it gives the freedom to create art as you wish, a trained professional would be present offer guidance and support. They can create a safe space for self-reflection and expression.
The key difference between art as therapy and art therapy is the intention. Art therapy emphasises increasing personal awareness and exploring insights through the creative process. In this article, we will dive deeper into both approaches to art and the psychological benefits they offer.
Art as Therapy
Art as therapy is used to describe art that is created for the purpose of leisure, relaxation, or personal pleasure.
Humans across ages have used painting, drawing, and other art forms as a mode of self-expression. Art can provide a sense of purpose in developing artistic talent and a feeling of accomplishment in completing an artwork. As such, it plays a role in improving mental health by encouraging engagement and personal development.
While art-making can be therapeutic, it is not therapy. You may enjoy art independent of a therapeutic relationship. Art can be used for self-discovery through activities such as visual journalling and colouring books. However, it also has value just as a skill or hobby.
Art psychotherapy uses the creative process as a way of externalising deep thoughts and raw emotions. It does not care for technical skills or techniques, relieving people of the pressure to create 'good' art. The focus is enabling people to communicate their inner world through their artwork.
Art therapy work can be conducted individually or in group sessions. It involves engaging with a professional art therapist to explore insights and work through personal challenges. Art therapists offer a non-intimidating, safe space for their clients to process emotional difficulties that may surface through the process.
Art therapy typically focuses on the process of visual and kinaesthetic forms of art making such as painting, drawing, collage, and sculpture. There are various ways to utilise art materials in an art therapy session, such as tearing paper or hammering wood. The unconventional use of different art materials helps to relieve tension or provide sensory stimulation.
The Benefits of Art Therapy & Art as Therapy
Both art as therapy and art therapy can aid in personal growth and transformation. They let people communicate without the need for words. This is particularly helpful with strong emotions that may be difficult to verbalise in talk therapy.
Art also helps to develop self-awareness. By distilling your emotions into a tangible form, it creates a safe distance from which they are easier to access and understand as compared to processing them internally.
Here are just a few of the mental health benefits that art therapy and art as a therapy offer.
Boost Confidence & Self-Awareness
By channelling their focus into making art, an individual also invests time and energy into themselves. This is a simple yet essential notion behind self-care. Honing creativity is also an effective way of building confidence and self-esteem.
Art therapy focuses on expressing one's innermost feelings, which often feel vulnerable. Viewing the inner world through a piece of artwork can make it seem more manageable, restoring a sense of control over one's life. Having their thoughts on display also gives people permission to take up tangible space, affirming the validity of their experiences.
Art encourages engagement with oneself and the world. An individual can develop greater awareness of the self as well as of others. This helps with improving social skills and strengthening interpersonal relationships.
Reduce Stress & Anxiety
Making art helps improve mental health by elevating mood and reducing levels of cortisol, which is the body's stress hormone. Having a healthy outlet to express yourself can be helpful for emotional regulation and finding balance in life.
The art-making process has also been shown to activate reward pathways in the brain. These are responsible for behaviour and feelings of satisfaction and motivation. By navigating raw feelings and finding release in a safe space, art therapy can thus help in building emotional resilience through positive reinforcement.
Facilitate Healing Through Creative Expression
The practice of making art is valuable to the process of self-reflection. Art therapy works in healing trauma in adults and children. It has been shown to help with mental health conditions such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and eating disorders.
By externalising internal conflicts, art therapy helps people to process traumatic experiences from a safe distance. As such, the artworks created are highly personal. Art therapists may offer guidance and observations, but it is ultimately up to the individual how they choose to interpret their works. This fosters a sense of autonomy over the healing process.
Choosing an Approach
Everyone can incorporate art-making into daily life to improve mental health and well-being. It can be a therapeutic outlet for you to understand and regulate your emotions, and thus better cope with life challenges. As a private practice, it also enforces routines for self-care and helps to build creativity and self-esteem.
Art psychotherapy is recommended for anyone who is struggling and wishes to seek help. Art therapists can offer their clients more comprehensive support and talk therapy. As mental health professionals, they are also equipped to offer appropriate treatment for more severe emotional issues and mental disorders.
Which Approach Is Right For You?
Neither art as therapy nor art therapy require artistic experience. The focus of both is to use art as a mode of healing, and will benefit the individual. The choice of approach is thus based on personal preference and available resources.
Art therapy provides support in a non-judgemental space. Clients can try out a wide range of materials and techniques to discover what works for them. Art as therapy is also used in art therapy sessions to introduce coping techniques.
Art as therapy may allow more artistic freedom. It can be a long-term self-care option but it is not a replacement for psychotherapy.
Begin Your Healing Journey With Art Therapy
Art as therapy and art therapy are both of great benefit to mental health. Art as therapy is a leisure activity that can evoke feelings of satisfaction and achievement through the act of creation. Art therapy is an evidence-based treatment that uses techniques from art as therapy while focusing on self-reflection and navigating emotional challenges.
It is important to seek professional help when using art as a therapeutic tool. At Solace, our art therapy services involve a trained art therapist who can offer comfort and guidance for overwhelming feelings that may arise. Learn more here.
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