How does art therapy work?
There are lots of ideas and theories about how art therapy (and other expressive therapies, such as music or drama therapy) work, and it is likely that there is more than one reason why they can be helpful.
In my experience these are some of the most common ways that art therapy can help:
- Art therapy takes the focus off talking about problems
It can be confronting or embarrassing to sit with a counsellor or therapist and tell them our worries and problems. When we make art, we can stay focused on the artwork, rather than face to face talking, and this can be a gentler way to start to explore our concerns and difficulties.
- Art therapy helps you stay in the moment
Most of us have heard about the benefits of mindfulness in the last few years. Mindfulness meditation can be a great way to help us to relax and ‘stay in the moment’. However, meditation is not for everyone, and it can take a bit of practice before you feel the benefits. With mindful art therapy practice, you can use art to help you stay present, whilst also helping the mind and body to calm down.
- Art therapy enables you to be actively involved in your sessions
We can often feel overwhelmed by our problems, and this can lead to feeling hopeless and unable to help ourselves. When we participate actively in our therapy, by drawing, painting or making something, we are overcoming that helpless, hopeless feeling, because we are actively engaged in making a change, however tiny. This helps us to realise that every situation has some potential for positive action, one small step at a time.
- Art therapy is calming to the mind and body
We know from brain studies that rhythmic, repetitive physical actions such as colouring, drumming, rocking, dancing, exercising, or even knitting can help us to calm ourselves down at a deep level when we are feeling anxious or agitated.
We call this ‘self-regulation’ and it is an important skill which most of us learn from our parents over time.
When we need extra help to learn (or relearn) these skills, making art can be a fantastic activity for self-soothing, before we are able to talk about what is bothering us. Once we are feeling calm, talking gradually becomes easier.
- Art therapy can allow us to tap into emotions and thoughts we may not even be conscious of at the time
When we focus on talking, we often stay in our everyday thought patterns, and we may not have access to finding creative solutions to problems. Whilst these thought patterns can be useful, they can also end up with us feeling ‘stuck’. This is when doing something different like making art can help us break out of our everyday thoughts and find a broader range of responses to problems and dilemmas.
Thanks for reading this blog post. Future posts will focus on understanding and managing emotions, parenting tips and links to other resources.