Art Therapy: What is Art Therapy and It’s Mental Health Benefits

The Arts, like all non-verbal expression, promote the exploration, expression and communication of aspects of which we are unaware. Therefore, the work of emotions through Art Therapy improves the quality of human relationships as it focuses on the emotional factor, which is essential for every human being, thus helping us to be more aware of certain obscure aspects and at the same time facilitating the development of the person.
What is Art Therapy

Art therapy cares about the person. This is not a project on her, but a project with her, based on her discomfort and her desire for change. Based on personal and cultural differences, she tries to update the conditions of creative production, to perceive the specifies of the means used and to understand their impacts.
Art therapy can be defined as a discipline with specifies and concrete limits. It is an aid – therapy for some – that uses the visual arts as a means to recover or improve a person’s mental health, emotional and social well-being. The goals of art therapy are the same as those of psychotherapy.
This aid focuses on art as a form of communication, which helps to express and communicate feelings, facilitating thinking, communication, and enabling necessary behavior changes. Artistic creation, taken as action, sets in motion a process: the therapeutic space intervenes and breaks with reality, reassessing it.
Art Therapy

The Arts Used in Psychological Therapy

The visual arts are those that are used in therapy. We are talking here about painting, clay, collage, performing arts such as comedy, storytelling, theater of reminiscence, role playing. Music uses rhythm, sound, voice and instruments; writing can use different genres. Art therapy is a way of telling the truth by playing on the symbolic. Creative experiences can represent acts of aggression, abandonment, loss, feelings, and do so indirectly, without intentionality.
With theater, drama, the patient talks about himself through a character. It is about the art of acting through a fictional character, a process of individual and / or collective creation that lies between two worlds: reality and fiction. In clay productions a dialogue with the material is established, here it is a question of promoting the encounter of the person with the material and of accompanying him on the path which goes from the clay to itself.
Art therapy cares about the person
Painting offers a first step of liberation, the person letting himself be carried away by the images that come to him, the lines, the shapes, the colors, seeking that the hand be freed from the censorship of the eyes, like a disinhibition, in order to organize it in a second step and, gradually, access the depths of the person.
With the dance intervenes, at the beginning, an awareness of the movement itself. The person manages to listen to her and to listen to herself through this dynamism, which then allows her to come closer to herself and facilitates communication with the other. In singing work, the natural voice is sought and used, breathing is unblocked; it is created and transformed from improvisations, combining different sound qualities.
Writing, on the other hand, offers new ways of playing with the imagination based on one’s own lived experiences. Imaginary situations and companions appear, along with various routes, until the creation of fictional stories and tales is achieved.
Working on Emotions with Art Therapy

Working on Emotions with Art Therapy

Emotions are of fundamental importance in human development and experience. In art therapy, working with the arts promotes personal and emotional development. Four phases are used to work with emotions in art therapy: naming, exploring, experiencing and integrating. Emotions are our primary form of communication and can be more important than words. If the words are not accompanied by appropriate emotions, it is hard to believe them.
Normally, when we express something emotionally, we use gestures, images, verbal metaphors, and tone of voice to communicate better with others. They help us understand and express much more than just words when they are adapted to them. The arts, like all non-verbal expression, promote the exploration, expression and communication of aspects of which we are not aware.
Art Therapy and Mental Health Benefits
Working on emotions through art therapy improves the quality of relationships. We focus on the emotional factor, which helps us to be more aware of certain dark aspects, and thus facilitates the development of the person. Basic emotions, such as fear, anger, joy, love, sadness, and uncomfortable feelings, are essential and necessary for the emotional balance of all human beings.
All emotions affect our cognitive abilities, our physical health and our professional performance. Emotional intelligence helps improve the ability to express adequate emotions, at substantial levels, in a given situation. It also involves the ability to perceive the other’s emotional manifestation appropriately and with empathy.
Working with the arts promotes personal and emotional development. The subconscious works more with symbols than with reasoned words, which is why the use of the arts facilitates the process of thought and its development. We can communicate much more through the arts, especially subconsciously, as images convey more than words and offer a safe way to explore difficult subjects.
The Benefits of Art Therapy

The Benefits of Art Therapy

Art therapy is beneficial in terms of the possibility of developing interpersonal skills, easily connecting the patient with other people in his environment, due to the ease of expression that this therapy offers. In addition, it is very useful for managing behavior, increasing self-esteem and avoiding the effects of anxiety.

Benefits of art therapy for people who practice it:

1. Expression of feelings that is difficult to verbalize

Sometimes it is difficult for us to express what we feel or think in a traditional way, which is why art therapy, as a tool using and developing expression, can help us shape these thoughts. And those feelings that are hard for us to let go.
Development of health

2. Development of healthy coping skills

Dealing with feelings and emotions in a creative way can help change established behaviors or habits that are put into action whenever we need to express emotions. Using art therapy when we are going through a sad emotional process by trying to use that emotion to create can help us cope with the situation optimally.

3. Exploration of imagination and creativity

The use of this type of therapy allows the person to improve their capacity to create and imagine, as well as to strengthen these capacities by working in a focused way and with the help of the therapist.

4. Improved self-esteem and confidence

Checking that we can achieve something on our own leads us to achieve greater emotional stability. Likewise, achieving the proposed goals allows us to increase our sense of security and fuel the brain with the idea that we are doing well.

5. Identification and clarification of concerns

Expressing in the outside world what concerns us on the inside allows us to see in a more practical and accessible way the concepts that we cannot understand. Abstract ideas that we only observe from an external point of view could be incorporated into our knowledge.

6. Increased communication capacity

Using the artistic modality to express oneself allows the person to acquire new tools to have good communication, both with others and with oneself. Being able to express what is difficult to verbalize trains the ability to express ourselves more clearly and more in tune with what we want to communicate.

7. Improvement of physical capacities

Art therapy usually uses the body to express what we cannot say. Therefore, this type of therapy is also beneficial for people who have difficulty performing certain movements or coordinating them.
Art lowers stress and anxiety levels

8. Art lowers stress and anxiety levels

Performing art and creativity related activities provides the person with an experience in which the level of stress and anxiety is reduced. People who perform this type of therapy find such activities relaxing.

9. Motivation to exercise mind and help with thinking

Scientific thinking goes further and is also linked to the ability to be independent or to solve problems of everyday life.

10. Improved concentration, attention and memory

It is important in our daily life to learn to focus. Having a good ability to concentrate helps us enormously in being more efficient at performing any task. The advantages of good concentration are many: it increases our memory, our efficiency in decision-making, our precision and our ability to cope with the challenges we face.
The fields of application of art therapy are physical health, mental health, emotional well-being and social well-being in different sectors of the population. In the case of people who require specific follow-up on their body expression and movement, art therapy can be applied through the techniques studied in psychotherapy.
The use of art therapy is possible in children and adolescents as well as in adults, with the advantage of being able to be applied at the therapeutic and educational level. In the latter case, cognitive-behavioral techniques can complement the use of art therapy (or vice versa), to instruct on aspects that directly influence educational development.

Duncan, N. (2007). Working with Emotions in Art Therapy / Art Therapy and Emotions. Art therapy
Bassols, M. (2006). Art therapy, support in creation and transformation. Art therapy and arts education documents for social inclusion


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