Art Therapy: Mind, Matter, & Creative Healing

Art Therapy

Even modern advances in the study of medicine, psychology and neuroscience have delivered us back to the time-old practice of making art. Art Therapy, the hybrid field that harnesses art towards healing, has gained national attention in recent years, signifying a revolution in how we understand the connections between body and mind.

Adult colouring books have noticeably exploded into a multi-million dollar market in recent years. These colouring books avow a meditative effect, giving adults a childlike experience of relaxed focus and imaginative catharsis. As art-making continues to garner more popular familiarity with its positive mental influence, the field of art therapy has also secured a national spotlight.

Many charitable organisations and private practices run by certified psychologists and therapists now exist that laud art therapy as a seriously transformative player in the medical world. Organisations making major advancements in the field in the United States include the American Art Therapy Assocation and the Art Therapy Project based in New York, both of which seek to elevate the practice and awareness of art therapy and its astonishing impact on a variety of patients. 

In Western medicine especially, there is a long history of compartmentalising physical-neurological functions apart from intangible emotional-mental phenomena. However, with increased medical sophistication we also see the breakdown of this boundary. The rise in nuanced recognition — on the part of evolutionary biologists and art theorists alike — that artful expression is an innate human tendency has led to the development of art therapy. 

The American Art Therapy Association defines art therapy as “a mental health profession in which clients, facilitated by the art therapist, use art media, the creative process, and the resulting artwork to explore their feelings, reconcile emotional conflicts, foster self-awareness, manage behaviour and addictions, develop social skills, improve reality orientation, reduce anxiety, and increase self-esteem.” By utilising what many might call the “alternative” process of art-making, art therapists help patients cope with, or even recover from, a vast array of difficulties; for example, conquering PTSD using clay, which has been shown to affect the memory portion of the human brain. Art Therapy though, being a highly personal process, can be sought for any number of conditions ranging from grief, anxiety, and depression to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer. It is art’s ability to unlock one’s individual unconscious and communicate that through images that make art therapy an incredibly promising practice both independently and in conjunction with traditional medicine.  

Art Therapy emphasises the complex connections between our bodies, brains, and emotional unconscious. Regarding health as a holistic complexity, it empowers patients across all ages to quite literally take their illness into their own hands and create positive transformation.

Words by Michelle Costanza