Art Therapy: current fad or valuable treatment?

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Have you ever wondered why every child has the urge to draw, yet we have to be taught to write? Drawing is a natural instinct, and our scribbles can perform important functions.

Doodling increases our concentration and helps to regulate our emotions. These ideas can help us to understand why colouring books for adults line the shelves of bookshops, and the importance of art as a form of therapy. 

Art therapy is a form of psychotherapy that involves expressing and working through emotions, problems and issues through art media such as painting and drawing. Far from a current fad, the term art therapy was coined in the 1940s and art therapist has been an official post in the NHS since 1946.

Drawing is a natural instinct

However, the history of art therapy goes back much further. Whilst not necessarily linked to mental health, Florence Nightingale noted that she recognised the therapeutic value of beautiful objects in the healing process. Even further back in history, the Egyptians are said to have used art to help people with mental illnesses, whilst the Greeks used drama and music for similar purposes.

Why use what may be seen as an imprecise method such as art therapy to help people with mental health issues, when we now know so much about these conditions and how to treat them? The answer to this is that art therapy can help where other techniques are not applicable.

Doodling increases our concentration and helps to regulate our emotions.

For example, when a client has difficulties with communication, with children who may not know how to express their feelings in words, or with those who have experienced trauma and find it difficult to express their experience to others. Sometimes a person may not know precisely what they are feeling, and art therapy can help them figure this out themselves. 

Art therapy with a professional and just practicing art at home are very different. Art therapist Sarah Greaves says “Art psychotherapists now have an MA in art psychotherapy. We are all registered with the Health Professions Council, bound by the British Association of Art Therapists Code of Ethics, and have regular supervision. It is a big responsibility, as well as a real privilege, working with someone who is suffering from mental health problems. You work closely together and have to be very attuned to what is going on for that person, so you can work to help them to become healthier…the work of an art therapist is to accompany and guide someone on that journey, without being intrusive or directive.”

Sometimes a person may not know precisely what they are feeling, and art therapy can help them figure this out themselves. 

Art therapy is not limited to drawing. Painting, dancing, making music and sculpture can all have similar benefits. It is often done in a group setting, where people can also benefit from the social aspect.

Many people are intimidated by the idea of creative therapy, and the potential embarrassment that they feel would come from their lack of talent. However, a client does not need to be a skilled artist to reap the benefits of art therapy, only to allow themselves to express humans’ natural instinct for creativity.  

Image: Pixabay

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