How Does Art Therapy Work?

Art therapy is a hybrid specialty rooted in art and psychology. It takes the expressive and communicative nature of art and uses it as a means to help people with emotional and psychological challenges achieve well-being and improve their levels of function. It can also help people deal with trauma, address unresolved internal conflicts, improve social skills, and raise self-esteem.

Techniques of Art Therapy

You don’t have to be artistic or technically skilled to achieve meaningful results with art therapy. Some studies show that art therapy can even be done without the actual creation of art—simply exploring pieces of art can be beneficial, too.

There are hundreds of simple art therapy ideas, including forms of digital art therapy and other nontraditional art mediums. Some examples include:

  • Drawing
  • Painting (including finger painting)
  • Scribbling, doodling, or sketching
  • Photography
  • Sculpture
  • Pottery
  • Crafts
  • Digital art 

Each art form is injected with techniques that allow for unrestrained self expression. People who participate in art therapy typically explore their creations as a way to understand how they feel, searching for themes and conflicts that may affect them mentally, emotionally, or behaviourally.

What Art Therapy Is Not

There are many misconceptions surrounding art therapy. People sometimes confuse it with an ordinary art class or as a way to simply release stress. But these beliefs are short sighted. 

It’s Not an Art Class

Art classes focus on the technical aspects of creating art, such as strokes, technical skills, etc. Art therapy, on the other hand, zeroes in on the expressive characteristics of a piece of work. You don’t need to have incredible artistic abilities to do art therapy. You can simply let your body and mind express itself how it wants.

It’s Not Just Therapeutic Art

Art can be therapeutic. But that doesn’t mean all art falls under the category of art therapy. To be medically beneficial, art therapy requires the presence of a licensed art therapist, with a minimum of a master’s degree, who can guide you through a customized program.

It’s Not for Everyone

Art therapy works best for people who have a hard time dealing with their emotions and for those who find it difficult to communicate verbally. Though the process is generally effective, it’s not a catch-all solution. It may be more beneficial for some people and not others.

What Does Art Therapy Work Best for?

Art therapy is typically used as a part of a mental health treatment program. It helps reduce stress, stimulate mental function, and improve an individual’s ability to manage negative emotions. It’s known to alleviate symptoms of:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Autism
  • Dementia
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Attention deficit disorder
  • Addiction or substance abuse
  • Grief
  • Eating disorders

It also shows positive results among people going through difficult situations such as major life transitions, loss, and divorce.

Art therapists work in various settings, from private offices to large hospitals, to accommodate the needs of their patients. Art therapy can also be done in conjunction with other forms of therapy.

How Does Art Therapy Work?

Art therapy uses techniques that activate sensory responses and generate imagery. The process allows people to connect to their emotions by re-experiencing their feelings and gaining insights that help them overcome overwhelming experiences. Art therapy’s goal is to help individuals become more self-aware and practice healthier coping strategies that ultimately lead to a better quality of life.

Try Art Therapy Through Digital Art

Through technology, art therapy has moved beyond a canvas and into digital spaces. Tech-savvy individuals can participate in art therapy online, expressing their thoughts and emotions through digital art. Even in this forum, there are no required artistic or technology skills required. Many people find generating AI digital art therapeutic with a few keyword prompts, as you would if using NightCafe’s AI-powered digital art creator.

If you think digital art would be therapeutic for you, ask your therapist to add it to your treatment program.