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Art Therapy : Techniques and Benefits

Updated: Feb 22, 2022

“Art washes from the soul the dust of everyday life.”

~ Pablo Picasso

A hybrid field, influenced by art and psychology, uses creative processes, art created in therapy and other artwork to help people when it comes to self - awareness, exploring emotions and resolving unsolved conflicts.Its main aim is to help people experiencing emotional and psychological challenges while also achieving personal growth. Neither art experience nor a natural ability is required for successful art therapy treatment.  

Coined by British artist Adrian Hill in 1942, who found the health impacts of art while he was recovering from tuberculosis and then many writers in the field of mental health in 1940s began describing their work with people as “art therapy”. Margaret Naumburg, Hanna Kwaitkowska, Florence Cane, Edith Kramer, and Elinor Ulman were five influential writers of the 1940s who made significant contribution towardS the development of art therapy as a recognized form.

Health Issues Treated by Art Therapy

Art therapy has benefited tons of people across the world and it includes an improvement in communication and concentration and also helps reduce feelings of isolation. Studies also show that it increases self – esteem, confidence and self – awareness. Other positive impacts of art therapy include:

1. Anxiety: The mental disorder of feeling uneasiness and nervousness.

2. Depression : The persistent feeling of sadness reducing the ability to enjoy life.

3. Substance dependency: Also known as drug dependence, it is the irresistible urge of consuming intoxicants.

4. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) : The mental disorder caused due to the terrifying events of the past leading to anxiety, nightmares and flashbacks.

5. Stress : The mental strain as a result of prolonged the adverse circumstances.

6. Cancer : A disease in which there is an uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells.

7. Attention deficit hyperactivity : The disorder resulting in hyperactivity, impulsivity and lack in attention.

8. Anorexia & amp; Bulimia : The serious disorder of binge eating and then trying of shred extra weight through unhealthy methods.

9. Cognitive impairments : The metal condition related with loss of memory and attention deficit affecting everyday life.

10. Compassion fatigue : An emotional state where there is a lack in ability to feel compassion and empathy.

Since art therapy allows people to express their feelings on every subject through art work rather than actions and speech, it is considered very helpful for those who find it difficult to deal with their emotions and feelings. It may also be very helpful for individuals trying to discuss painful experiences.


It is a unique thing that while most forms of therapy rely on language, art therapy requires something different, refreshing but at the same time harder to define. A certified art therapist will know the powerful effect that a creative process will have on therapy and it has proven beneficial for even for non – verbal individuals as well as professional artists and you don’t even need to be excellent at art for this therapy, all you need to do is – be honest with yourself and your emotions.

Common Techniques used in Art Therapy include:

  1. Painting

  2. Finger painting

  3. Doodling and scribbling

  4. Sculpting

  5. Drawing

  6. Clay Modelling/Pottery

  7. Carving

  8. Making collages

This helps people express those thoughts, emotions and experiences that remain suppressed or are in the unconscious mind and a person has difficulty in talking about them. “In a 2004 study, thirty-two women with heart disease were first interviewed and then asked to individually illustrate the illness. The resultant drawings were grouped into three categories: (1) the heart at the center, (2) the heart in the lived body, and (3) heart disease as a social illness. The use of color, spatial arrangement, and composition were analysed, and the drawings ultimately helped health care professionals better

appreciate how each woman understood her condition and provided insight on how to best to approach each case.”


Studies show that creating art leads to release of dopamine, a chemical which is released when we do something that gives us pleasure and just makes us feel happier and increased levels of the same will help in reducing stress and relax your body and mind. It can also be used a compliment to traditional mental health treatments. Following are some of the benefits of art therapy:

1. Self-Discovery : creating art helps one in acknowledging and recognizing their feelings that are there in the sub conscious and the unconscious mind.

2. Self Esteem : it gives you a sense of self accomplishment which is very valuable to improve self-confidence.

3. Emotional release : it gives you an outlet to express all your feelings and fears and all the emotions can’t be expressed with words so art helps in expressing your emotional desire! Complex emotions such as sadness or anger sometimes cannot be expressed with words.

4. Independence : It is capable of promoting a sense of personal independence, self-reliance, and self-sufficiency.

5. Improving Coordination : It is capable of facilitating and developing strategies for hand-eye coordination, fine and gross motor skills, and finger dexterity and speed.

6. Recovery from Trauma : People who try to block out past memories and traumatic experiences can express their feelings and move forward with the help of art therapy.

7. Positivity : It provides a liberating and refreshing start and help people keep negative things at bay.

“Art therapy is a mental health profession that uses the creative process of art making to improve and enhance the physical, mental and emotional well-being of individuals of all ages.”

Source : American Art Therapy Association, 2012, Online



“Numerous case studies have reported that art therapy benefits patients with both emotional and physical illnesses. Case studies have involved many areas, including burn recovery in adolescents and young children, eating disorders, emotional impairment in young children, reading performance, childhood grief, and sexual abuse in adolescents. Studies of adults using art therapy have included adults or families in bereavement, patients and family members dealing with addictions, and patients who have undergone bone marrow transplants, among others. Some of the potential uses of art therapy to be researched include reducing anxiety levels, improving recovery times, decreasing hospital stays, improving communication and social function, and pain control.” (American Cancer Society, 2012, Online) 


People who feel pressured or stressed by the hectic world we live in, specially today; in an age rife with technology, should give art therapy a try. Creating something meaningful will give you a chance to slow down and may feel sort of a detox. It will help you come out of your shell and widen your horizon while also redeeming you of your past troubles and trauma. Art therapy improves the mental health of people who are dealing with addictions, anxiety, attention disorders, grief and loss, dementia, depression, eating

disorders, physical illness, PTSD, trauma, relationship issues and much more.

The focus of this particular is not the outcome, rather it is the process which one goes through while doing art therapy. It is not about being a great artist, rather it is about finding a meaning in your life and the only thing you need to have is, your willingness to learn and engage!


1. Art Therapy dates back to 1940:

Founder of art therapy, Margaret Naumberg, was the first to define it as a form of psychotherapy. She talked to her clients and had them make their dreams. It started in 1967 with the establishment of the art therapy studio and today it has over 5000 professional art therapists who help people deal with their emotions through art.

2. Art work is confidential:

Art therapists do not showcase the art in hallways like teachers do in schools. It is all very confidential and once you are done with therapy, the therapist may display all your artwork like in a gallery and the client ca invite his/her family to view the work but only if the client permits.

3. Self – discovery:

Through art is way more powerful that a therapist who tells about his observations and interpretations: art therapists have training in diagnostic art indicators but they don’t only rely on that. They encourage the clients to make their observations and their goal is the artwork.

4. How the Therapist Evaluates our Work:

The therapist observes us while we make the art work and once done, they will start asking questions with respect to the process of the art work, the difficulties we face, our feelings when we were making the art work and then will assess our work. He/she will observe the colors, patterns, scratches. Doodles, etc and connect them with our deepest thoughts and emotions.

5. Art as a therapy vs Art Therapy :

Art as a therapy is used with toddlers and young children who have severe intellectual disability, or with adults who are suffering with illnesses like dementia, Alzheimer’s or terminal illness to provide a therapeutic space to experience the sensory and kinesthetic experiences. Art therapy on the other hand is used to improve self - esteem, awareness, enhance and regulate emotions, manage stress and anxiety among others.

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