Art as Therapy

Art Therapy is based on the underlying terms that the artistic/creative process can be in some shape or form – healing. It can repair the human body and soul; a way to analyse ones thought from spontaneous artistic outlets. Art Therapy is used in many fields and with various patient and cliental. Progressing from young children with autism or troubled upbringings to schizophrenics to the depressed, and even to people with terminal diseases such like cancer. This creative form of therapy can be manifested in bountiful ways – it perhaps is not what is typically thought of to be “therapy”.

It is not necessarily about the outcome but about the therapeutic process and thought process that is involved. It does not particularly matter what the drawing, or sculpture or film, etc., looks like – it matters that the client gains some sort of understanding within their consciousness.

“The product is less important than the therapeutic process.” – Malchiodi

The final outcome is not what should be the important thing, so to say, but rather the process that is involved. The process that has taken place for the patient to create what they have created. It is finding that niche that helps relax said patient.


Much like anything else, art therapy is built on the foundations that have been set and led by others. Many findings of modern therapy with artistic and creative qualities originated in the USA. What is interesting is that a large chunk of the ‘founders’ of art therapy (in the USA) – are women. This to me, is intriguing as especially in these days women were seen as inferior to the male population who were to perhaps just sit at home, be a mother and a wife who cooks and cleans and are not perhaps naturally allowed to form their own opinions in the way that men were allowed. Is it just coincidence? Or is it that women have a better understanding of depression and mental health etc. Traditionally speaking, it is women that are generally more thought of when talking about depression, women are at a higher risk of depression. According to Ross in ‘The Aesthetics of Disengagement”, there is a significant difference between the ratio of female to male in the realms of depression. Ross writes; “studies typically reporting sex ratios (female:male) in the range of 2 or 3 to 1?”. (Ross 2006, p.2) However, Ross also talks about the difference between melancholia and depression – that there is a significant difference. Generally speaking, there is a different relationship with loss and guilt with depression and melancholia. It was thought that melancholia was just another word/phrase for depression that simply evolved through the eras bringing to us: depression. To the contrary, Ross argues that although they share similar qualities, they are in fact rather different. Melancholia, according to Ross was most predominant within males and is what caused the “male genius”. For example, big names throughout the eras including Tschivosky, Charles Dickens and also Einstein were among those to have allegedly suffered from depression or other mental disorders. However, this is not to say of course that men do not suffer from depression. There is already a stigma that surrounds depression but in my opinion, there is an even bigger stigma surrounding male depression. It is talked about even less that woman with depression as stereotypically men should be seen to be manly and able. Masculine enough not to cry or show their emotions – but this should evidently not be the case in my opinion.


Art has been associated with the right brain which is where the creative side of the brain is supposed to lay, apposed to the left side which is the logical side. It was thought that the different side of the brains had almost completely different functions. It is popular knowledge that an individual was either more right brained or more left brained, in other words either enhanced creativity or increased logicality. “In reality, the brains left hemisphere (where language is located) is also involved in making art.”(Malchiodi 2011, p.19). Is this a coincidence? Making art and being creative is also located in the same area of the brain as language is located. Art can be considered its very own language. It is and has been used throughout the eras to communicate messages or stories that words could not almost do justice to. Language is a way to communicate just as art is a way to communicate. Naumburg was seen as the original finder of art therapy, we can go as far to say “Mother of Art Therapy”. Naumburg heavily believed in techniques used in psychoanalysis, heavily borrowed from both Freud and Jung. Edith Kramer was another founder, so to say, of art therapy whose writings also became rather successful and even used still today as original sources within the contemporary field of art therapy. Kramer had a different approach as she adapted concepts from Freudian theories such as his personality theory – she used this to explain the art therapy process. Kramer’s approach was more focused on the idea of the art making is being therapeutic and was intrigued by the potential that could derive from this simple idea. Kramer had a direct approach and application and did work throughout schools and educational settings where she would encourage people to focus on the therapeutic process, which was in contrast to Naumburg’s more psychiatric approach.



It goes without saying that art therapy of course has some type of art included whether it be drawing, painting, sculpting, whatever the preferred choice. However, this does not mean that there are not any scientific methods to the field. Recent scientific evidence is discovering how images influence emotions and relationships with the physical well being of oneself.  These findings demonstrate how the body reacts to creative actives which certainly clarifies a beneficial use in art therapy, or other creative forms of therapy such as music or play therapy. As the knowledge of scientific findings increase, “art therapy is discovering new frontiers for the use of imagery and art expression in treatment.” (Malchiodi). The process of discovering a patient’s mental illness, whether that be depression or schizophrenia or personality disorders – and how these illnesses/disorders can be helped and controlled within an individual’s life.  Bill Moyers, an American journalist, in 1993 first brought to the public realm the concept of “mind-body medicine”. The idea that the mind and body are connected. That your emotional and mental health can have an impact on the physical side of things. That mental health is not necessarily only about the mental but that it can cause a lot of serious physical implications alongside this. “Scientists have found that a state of mind like sadness may have a specific physical counterpart hidden within the inner recesses of the brain.” (Moyers, 1993). Art therapy is considered as a mind-body method. The way that one physically has to use the body to create something that has came form the individual. It is a way that the mind is having an evident impact on the body’s health.  The gestures that are created whilst making, involve movement from the physical self resulting in the minds capability. From here on in, a new type of therapy derived. Mindfulness. Although it is only relatively recently this technique has received attention, it is not a new concept. It has been around for a long time in forms such as meditation and yoga – which has been around for hundreds of years. Although, some of these mediations were associated with religion – it is still an evident way that it manifested itself within the mental health realms.


A specific mindfulness, I myself have found particularly helpful in some dark and tough times; is the use of guided image therapy within the mindfulness concept. Since the age of about 15, I have been referred to various psychiatrists and psychologists, and other similar professionals. Labouring through various therapies and techniques, the particular theory that sticks in my head is a guided therapy sort of session which was mainly used for my crippling anxiety and depression.  It was to imagine that one was in a safe place with a flowing body of water. It just so happened that my safe place was a very quiet secluded stream or river, with grass on either side which led to a vast open area of fresh green land where many little creatures could be living their everyday lives and anyone would be none the wiser to these little lives. The next step was to imagine some leaves floating down the little stream – which for me was tricky as I did not envision any trees in my safe place, so I compromised and thought of lily pads floating down the river. The final step was to watch these little lily pads float down the stream and imagine that on those little pads that are your deepest fears and anxieties. That’s it. You watch them float away and say goodbye to the negatives that are holding over oneself. You say goodbye as one knows that they are only going to be there for a short while and then they will leave eventually. They are not permeant – only temporary. For myself, this was very useful in helping me gauge what my sub conscious was worried about. I found this technique very helpful from when I would feel nauseas or dizziness from being so anxious or depressed. Although I suffered and still do from time to time,  from mental disorders/illnesses, they had a large impact on my physical wellbeing. I suffered from vomiting, fatigue and dizziness (mainly). The way this guided imagery technique helped me was whilst I was having some physical impacts, it could help calm my senses and emotions as just having something else to concentrate on – even if for a short time – is very helpful and useful for some. Until recently, many researchers have been sceptical with how beneficial and exact guided imagery can be. It is not necessarily going to work with every individual, much like other therapies – it depends on how that individual sees the world and what their experiences have been which will impact the type of therapy that will be successful to them. According to research, many have been sceptical with how beneficial and exact guided imagery can be – until recently. The understanding of mental imagery is increasing due to neuroscience finding new discoveries about how the brain stores and formats images. Images whether they are real or imaginative, they both activate the same part of the brain in very similar ways. “Our bodies respond to mental images as if they are reality” – according to Damasio. (Malchiodi 2011, p.18). For individuals with psychotic illnesses such as schizophrenia or psychotic depression or various other hallucinate illnesses – this theory can make it easier, or more difficult ins some cases, to understand such illnesses. The concept that our bodies respond in almost the exact same way to mental images and images from reality, creates a deeper insight to as why hallucinate illnesses can seem so real to the individual. The interactions of the brain and image understandings have deemed to explore the relationship between mental images and creative making. Image making, whether that be mental images through the use of techniques such as guided imagery or similar approaches – or if it shall be a physical image that has been created, nonetheless – all images are important within the realms of art therapy. If the image comes from the conscious or unconscious, each are as valuable as one another. Within the image creating or imagining, the individual are invited to talk about and explore their emotions, how their experiences have helped these emotions and how their art can be trying to tell them a message through their subconscious.

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