The Positive Effects of Art Therapy
April 13, 2016
Art is practiced as a form of therapy to help people with mental illnesses and/or disabilities. Art is a great outlet for individuals with mental illnesses and disabilities for many reasons: it gives people an opportunity to express themselves ways they may not normally communicate in and enables them to pour their emotions on a canvas. Many beloved artists such as Edvard Munch, Vincent van Gogh, Georgia O’Keeffe, Louis Wain, and Michelangelo had mental illnesses, and we can uncover these stories and messages through their famous works of art.
In Martin Seligman’s book, Flourish, Seligman stated his philosophy that the five critical elements of psychological well-being are: positive emotion, engagement, accomplishment, positive relationships, and meaning. When an artist is creating work that is accepted by the community and is receiving positive feedback from it, the artist can build confidence and an added boost of self-esteem. Art also connects the artist with other artists and audiences, which creates engagement within a community and creates positive relationships with other people. All of this combined can give an artist meaning in their lives which they may have lacked prior to creating.
During The Connection Between Art, Healing, and Public Health: A Review of Current Literature, researchers found in over 100 studies conducted to connect the affects of art therapy on physical and psychological health that art allowed patients affected by mental illness to temporarily forget about their illnesses and allowed them to focus on positive life experiences. Researchers Stuckey and Nobel also found that creating art helped patients maintain the identity of who they were before they got sick, gave them a sense of achievement, helped them with their feelings, and reduced stress by lowering levels of the stress hormone, cortisol.
These are just a few examples of how art therapy has positive impacts. Across the world, art studios exist that invite individuals with mental illnesses and disabilities to join the studio and create art in an attempt to give them a platform to express themselves. They provide them with a physical space, artistic assistance, materials, and more, which enables these artists to feel apart of something bigger: a community where they are accepted, a place to call home.
We want to break down the walls stigma and bridge barriers fostering greater appreciation for those we seek to empower. A few of the artists we work with have mental illnesses and have acknowledged that art has helped them progress with their condition.
Through art, we can actively express how we’re feeling inside in a way that we may not be able to put into words. Megan Robb, an art therapist at the NIH Clinical Center, said in an article that after you paint or draw images, you can progress to forming words to describe these images, which can externalize trauma by moving it out of isolation, onto the page, and into a positive exchange with a therapist.
For these reasons, art therapy is used as an option to help those with mental illnesses or disabilities. It is important that people are educated on the positive effects art has on the mental and physical. The more people that are aware of the use of art as a therapy and understand the positive outcomes of it, the more people with mental illnesses and disabilities can be recognized in the community for something beyond their condition.