‘I found I could say things with colour and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way – things I had no words for.’

– RENOWNED MODERNIST ARTIST, GEORGIA O’KEEFFE

 

Art therapy is a form of treatment that integrates psychotherapeutic techniques with a wide range of creative experiences and processes. We’ve been using the arts to communicate, express and consider for centuries. Art therapy was recognised as a formal program in the 1940s when medical practitioners observed that people with mental health challenges found artistic practices to be an important form of self-expression and healing. But how effective is art therapy for treating mental health concerns?

 

Art therapy painting showing a face with two different coloured sides
How effective is art therapy for treating mental health concerns?

 

Research is mounting demonstrating the benefits of artmaking for enhanced mental wellbeing, this includes, reducing cortisol levels, encouraging positive mental states, and strengthening different pathways in the brain. Recent studies even suggest the effectiveness of some types of art therapy rivals that of cognitive behavioural therapy.

Art therapy can integrate psychotherapeutic concepts from evidence-based therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT), and Acceptance and Commitment therapy. It can also enhance experiences of mindfulness, self-compassion, and exploring new ways of thinking or relating to self and others. Art therapy can also embed insight and self-awareness with the individual by providing cognitive, emotional, kinaesthetic, sensory, visual and symbolic experiences.

Art therapy has a robust and growing evidence base, with a recent WHO report examining over 3000 types of creative-based interventions including art therapy. They discovered strong evidence for the positive impact of the arts on physical and mental wellbeing. A recent report by the Institute for Safety, Compensation and Recovery Research also found evidence that art therapy was effective at reducing depression and anxiety symptoms associated with psychological trauma.

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Nowadays, many people find that art therapy can be a significant part of their treatment process, with the impact of art therapy going further than solely relaxation or enjoyment. As art therapy becomes more commonplace, a wider range of individuals stands to benefit from the many therapeutic outcome’s art therapy can provide.

 

Research is mounting demonstrating the benefits of artmaking for enhanced mental wellbeing, this includes, reducing cortisol levels, encouraging positive mental states, and strengthening different pathways in the brain. Recent studies even suggest the effectiveness of some types of art therapy rivals that of cognitive behavioural therapy.

 

Who is art therapy for?

Art therapy can be for everybody! While some individuals may feel more naturally comfortable with the idea of exploration and expression within an artistic format, art therapy’s benefits can also be enjoyed by those who’ve never considered themselves creative. This is due to art therapy’s ability to help clients in processing and resolving negative thoughts and feelings, which is commonly found across a wide range of individuals in response to varying traumas.

Art therapy works by engaging curiosity and imagination, qualities that are inherent in every human being. It encourages users to accept that there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way of being creative, which many participants find to be freeing. Art therapy is highly different to an art class. While participants may discover new ways of being creative or trying out new media, the emphasis is on personal expression and exploration within a safe, therapeutic relationship.

Art therapy is also effective for individuals who have difficulties with verbal expression. For example, young children or individuals with acquired brain injury can use art therapy to express ideas, emotions and feelings that traditional ‘talk therapy’ may not access.

 

A woman painting an abstract artwork during art therapy
Art therapy has the ability to help clients in processing and resolving negative thoughts and feelings, which is commonly found across a wide range of individuals in response to varying traumas.

 

What are the types of art therapy?

By applying psychotherapeutic techniques, various types of art therapy may be utilised with individuals – these are then applied depending on their goals and preferences. Such approaches may be informed by relational and neurobiological underpinnings and may include;

· Mindfulness-based art therapy
· Cognitive Behavioural art therapy
· Eco or nature-based art therapy
· Psychodynamic art therapy

In art therapy, arts-based techniques of various media, including drawing, painting, photographic imagery, collage and sculptural forms, are intentionally utilised within the context of a therapeutic relationship. Art therapists use creative and psychotherapeutic methods to support people in expressing and exploring their thoughts, emotions, challenges, and experiences. Here, visual language (such as imagery, lines, shapes and colours) can provide participants with another form of expression, creating space for them to communicate via a language other than words.

 

The risks of art therapy

Much like other forms of therapy, some people will find art therapy more effective than others. Guests may find it confronting to express difficult situations or emotions, but the art therapist will always endeavour to create a safe space for this process to take place within. There’s also never any pressure on guests to continue, with complete freedom for them to stop, or to begin, a different activity. Guests may also experience frustration or discomfort within the art-making process, which can be a necessary and standard element of any creative practice or exploration.

 

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Art therapy at The Banyans

 

Art therapy painting showing a face with two different coloured sides
The Banyans Residential Program in Brisbane offers various types of art therapy in individual sessions that run for approximately 45 minutes. In each session, our art therapists provide a wide range of mediums, including collage materials, paints, pastels, clay and photography.

 

The Banyans Residential Program in Brisbane offers art therapy as one strand of its integrated and holistic treatment approach. In addition, our team delivers enriching art therapy services that are complementary to psychotherapeutic therapies, such as verbal therapy.

Through creative exploration, our guests have the opportunity for enjoyment, mindful relaxation and self-discovery. They can also gain emotional or cognitive processing tools and insights and develop new possibilities by exploring their stories with symbolism and metaphor.

We offer various types of art therapy in individual sessions that run for approximately 45 minutes. In each session, our art therapists provide a wide range of mediums, including collage materials, paints, pastels, clay and photography. The art therapist will purposefully collaborate with guests around the specific explorations and media that may best align with their therapeutic goals. The individual’s preferences are kept at the front of the creative development process.

Artwork is not interpreted by the art therapist. Instead, guests are supported to explore their artwork and its personal meanings, if they desire to, leaving the experience open-ended to serve each guest based on their particular needs and instincts. Guests are invited to take their artwork with them if they’d like to.

 

An interdisciplinary practice

If you’re joining The Banyans for a Residential Program in and are wondering “how effective is art therapy?” we encourage you to embrace the powerful benefits of this therapeutic treatment. Our qualified art therapists will explore various types of art therapy with guests, while working alongside our psychologists and health practitioners in an interdisciplinary approach. This empowers our guests to benefit from a holistic approach to their mental health, using complementary treatments that can be personalised based on individual needs.

 

Seeking support

The Banyans can help you or a loved one when experiencing a mental health, addiction, or dependency problem. We offer a range of programs tailored to your needs, including; The Banyans inpatient Residential Programs at our private treatment centre in the breathtaking Brisbane hinterland, The Banyans Health Plus flexible outpatient Day Program centrally located in inner-city Brisbane, or our convenient Online Programs.

The Banyans is available 24/7 to help you begin your journey towards a happy and healthy life. You can call anytime on +61 1300 941 187 or submit an online enquiry to begin learning how we can help you rediscover your true self.

This page was reviewed by Cielle Van Vuuren (MMH AThR), Art Therapist at The Banyans Healthcare Group