Art and Mental Health

Updated: Jul 24

With a variety of unique types of therapeutic interventions on the rise, art therapy is in its own growing field.

According to the American Art Therapy Association (AATA) art therapy is aptly named, to describe it succinctly would be to classify it as an amalgam between art and mental health.

In the same vein, if you were to hear about art therapy, perhaps one of the first things that might come to your mind are adult coloring books. During the pre-COVID-19 era, it was ridiculously hard to walk through places like Barnes and Nobles without running into the tables filled with these types of books at the entrance. However, even more interestingly, according to Adrienne Raphel’s article published in The New Yorker, adult coloring books have already been around for “decades.” Raphel noted that increased demand by adults for more complex designs led to publishers creating a wider variety of these books with more complex designs meant for adults.

As noted by the AATA, professional art therapists are licensed and receive specialist training in the profession. This does not necessarily mean that purchasing one of these coloring books and filling in a few sheets of coloring pages makes one an art therapist. However, while there is some evidence that art therapy when facilitated by an art therapist can be utilized to help individuals feel better, some studies suggest that engaging in activities such as coloring can potentially help someone feel better.

One study conducted at Drexel University compared two groups, one that received art therapy by a trained therapist and one that was permitted to color freely. It was found that although at the end of the intervention, a reduction of negative emotions was seen in the coloring group, participants that had received art therapy reaped significantly more benefits in tested variables such as an increase in positive emotions. (Kaimal et al., 2017, p. 63, 64)

Going further into the topic, the AATA suggests that art therapy has already been utilized in a widespread variety of settings; these settings range from hospitals and schools to private practice.

Something unique about art therapy is that it can serve as an alternative means of expression. As a result, it can possibly serve as a bridge for providing interventions for those that either may be unable to speak or may be apprehensive with traditional forms of therapy. This is particularly important in terms of eliminating barriers and ensuring inclusivity and equity for all individuals who seek therapy services.

Regardless, it’s interesting to see how art can potentially be utilized under proper settings to serve as a therapeutic tool!

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