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If you’ve hit a plateau in conventional therapy or you’re ready for the benefits of a strong alternative treatment method, or are just looking to try out something different, art therapy may be your new niche. Art therapy has grown in popularity in recent years as people search for creative outlets to express and understand their experiences. Although many people enjoy art on a recreational basis, it’s increasingly being incorporated into mental wellness practices.

The benefits of art therapy range from increased sensorimotor skills to increased self-esteem and healing from trauma. Different sectors of health and well-being incorporate art therapy, such as addiction, physical rehabilitation, cancer treatment, play therapy and work with patients with dementia. Art therapy can exist as an independent practice, or it can be incorporated into other therapies on a one-time or consistent basis like we offer at Silvermist Recovery.

What is art therapy?

By definition, art therapy is treatment that uses a creative and physical process to allow individuals to incorporate mind, body and soul into restoring health. It is an integrative approach to exploring the human experience through psychotherapeutic techniques.

Art therapy steps away from traditional therapy, in that it is not talk-centered. As a non-verbal therapy practice, it often appeals to individuals who struggle with self-expression and communication. It is a means to elevate sub-conscious or difficult topics in a safe manner.

Does art therapy actually work?

Art therapy’s effectiveness is difficult to prove, only because data gathered from the creative process is often more qualitative than quantitative, and doesn’t easily translate to numbers and statistics. However, a meta-analysis of numerous studies on art therapy found that art therapy was beneficial for those struggling with daily issues, shown to reduce stress.

The American Art Therapy Association states that art therapy works by employing kinesthetic, sensory and figurative exercises that allow for non-conventional (aka, non-verbal) communication. It exceeds the limits of language and aims to empower individuals through artwork. Additionally, there are several skills that can be cultivated through art therapy, all of which contribute to overall mental health.

What does art therapy help with?

The benefits of art therapy are incredibly diverse and will likely be different for each individual. Additionally, the pros of using art as part of a treatment portfolio greatly depend on the goals you are hoping to achieve for your mental health. Although benefits are different for everyone, some of the advantages to art therapy include:

  • Find meaning
  • Connect to your body
  • Increase ways to express yourself
  • Practice gratitude for your physical abilities
  • Reduce anxiety as your explore in a safe environment
  • Grow in self-esteem
  • Learn to communicate non-verbally
  • Release bottled emotions
  • Relieve stress
  • Develop social skills when you make art with others

How do I perform art therapy?

Art therapy can be accomplished in several ways, the first of which is with a certified or licensed art therapist. You can find an art therapist with a master’s degree and additional credentials by searching the American Art Therapy Association’s page.

You can participate in art therapy with your usual therapist or counselor as well. Often, practitioners incorporate art therapy exercises as part of their treatment program. If you think art therapy would be helpful for you, you can always bring up the idea to your current therapist and discuss how to weave the novel treatment modality into your treatment plan.

You can participate in art therapy at home as well. Although there are certain methods and benefits of learning art therapy with a certified professional, you can easily try out art therapy activities on your own. Remember, you do not need to produce show-stopping masterpieces to fulfill art therapy. What matters is that you’re investing in your mental health and discovering a positive expressive outlet.

Here are some art therapy ideas to get the creative juices flowing.

  • Draw your life as a comic strip. If you consider yourself to be more inclined toward animation than other mediums of art, consider creating a character of yourself to form a comic about your experiences. Dramatize certain events to resemble their impact on your life.
  • Paint the same scene twice. Invest in some acrylic or oil paints and two canvases and decide on an image that you can recreate. First, paint yourself or the setting as it appears in the midst of a struggle, and paint the scene again as you imagine it to feel after achieving your mental health goals. Try to enter a meditative state while you paint, through deep breathing and visualization.
  • Draw your personal coat of arms. Draw an outline of a shield or a crest and fill it with things that are important to you. This angle is a great introductory activity to art therapy because it allows you time to think deeply about how to use symbolism to represent yourself.
  • Use clay to sculpt your circle of influence. Start by modeling yourself out of clay and then add in important family members, friends and other influences in your journey. Pay attention to their posture, where they are located and how you decide to depict them. All the characters should tell a story, and with malleable material you can adjust them all as you go.
  • Make a collage. There are lots of ways to go about this, but here’s the idea: use old magazines, pictures and even items that you can easily attach to a paper (buttons, ribbons, stickers, etc). Consider making a collage that represents you, or a collage of your mental health journey with sections for the past and the present.
  • Check out 100 Art Therapy Exercises here for more inspirational art therapy prompts.

If you’re interested in art therapy, the Silvermist Art Therapy Program is ready to help. Silvermist is an addiction recovery center that adopts a holistic approach to treating individuals with dignity. Silvermist’s art therapy program allows participants to seek mental well-being through a creative process guided by professionals. To learn more about Silvermist and incorporate art into your healing, call  (724) 268-4858 or reach out today to learn more..