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A Guide to Art Therapy

What is art therapy?

Art therapy is a specialized discipline in the mental health field that uses creativity to help resolve psychological conflicts. In therapy sessions, art therapists lead patients through the creative process to help them communicate, cope with stress and explore their own thoughts and feelings. These exercises have proven to be an effective mental health treatment for people living with depression, trauma, medical illness, and social difficulties.

How does art therapy benefit mental health?

The benefits that art therapy has to a person’s mental health include:

  • Improving self-esteem
  • Facilitating self-expression
  • Boosting self-confidence
  • Lowering anxiety
  • Increasing self-control
  • Providing a cathartic release of emotion
  • Increasing insight and self-understanding
  • Helping to bypass cognitive defenses and quickly assessing emotion
art therapy mental health benefits

How does art therapy help with stress and depression?

As an immersive activity, creating art carries many of the same benefits of meditation. Being completely focused on creating art helps alleviate stress and quiets anxious thoughts in our minds. From an emotional healing perspective, making art that represents emotions can help us process things we are feeling. For some of us, it’s easier to process emotions and heal when we don’t have to put our feelings into words.

In order to truly be considered art therapy, art exercises must be guided by an art therapist.

Is coloring considered art therapy?

It’s a common misconception that simply by coloring, we are participating in art therapy, but in reality, art therapy is much more than coloring. In order to truly be considered art therapy, art exercises must be guided by an art therapist. Art therapists are trained to pick up on symbols and metaphors expressed through art, helping their patients understand how their creative expression reveals their thoughts and feelings. Art therapists are also trained to facilitate the right creative exercises that best align with a patient’s interests, mood, abilities, etc.

art therapy group session

Who can use art therapy?

You don’t need specialized training to participate in art therapy exercises, and you don’t need to be diagnosed with a psychological disorder to benefit from these exercises. All you need is a willingness to experiment with different materials and explore your emotions. Art expressions make our emotions visible, allowing us to recognize and validate how we are feeling.

Although it is only considered art therapy when directed by an art therapist, the benefits of self-directed art activities are also therapeutic. Try some of these exercises when you’re feeling stressed or would like to gain insight into your emotions.

art therapy exercise callout

Draw what you are feeling: angry, sad, worried, fearful, etc.

This allows free expression, mastery and understanding of that feeling.

Materials:

Paper

Paper

Pens, pencils

Colored pencils, crayons, markers or oil pastels

Anger

Use clay to pound out anger/frustration and create a symbol of what you want to use your anger for.

This provides a safe, cathartic release of feelings.

Materials: Clay

Make your own clay:

  • 2 cups salt
  • 2/3 cups water
  • saucepan
  • 1 cup cornstarch
  • 2/3 cup cold water

Directions

  1. Stir salt and water in a saucepan over heat 4-5 minutes.
  2. Remove from heat; add cornstarch and cold water.
  3. Stir until smooth; return to heat and cook until thick.
  4. Allow the clay to cool, then shape as desired.
  5. When dry, decorate with paint, markers, glitter and so on.
  6. Store unused clay in a Ziploc bag.
Clay

Use paint to create a relaxing image, using relaxing music in the background.

This will help too decrease anxiety.

Materials:

Watercolor

Watercolor paper or art canvas

Pens, pencils

Watercolors, tempera or acrylic paint

Brushes

Paintbrushes

Music

Relaxing music playlist

Painting

Create a collage of things you like about yourself and your life, things you are grateful for, your past accomplishments.

This helps create a counterbalance and perspective when you are struggling with failures and low self-esteem.

Materials:

Paper

Poster board or large-sized paper

Scissors

Scissors

Magazines

Magazines

Photos

Personal photos

Pens

Pens, pencils, markers, etc.

Glue

Glue or glue sticks

Collage

Create a collage of what you want to see in your future and create a plan on how to achieve these goals.

This helps to increase motivation and a sense of hope.

Materials:

Paper

Poster board or large-sized paper

Scissors

Scissors

Magazines

Magazines

Photos

Personal photos

Pens

Pens, pencils, markers, etc.

Glue

Glue or glue sticks

Collage

Resources

This guide was created in partnership with Noel Kearns ATR-BC, a registered, board certified art therapist with the behavioral health unit at AdventHealth Shawnee Mission. She also has a private practice in downtown Overland Park.

For more information about art therapy, visit: www.arttherapy.org

If you are interested in working with one of the art therapists at AdventHealth Behavioral Health, visit us online or call 913-789-3218.

If you are struggling with severe depression, anxiety, suicidal or self harming thoughts or behaviors, please contact the Behavioral Health Assessment Center at 913-789-3218.

If you feel you need immediate assistance, please come to our Emergency Department at
9100 W 74th Street
Shawnee Mission, KS.
advent health behavioral care map