I was asked to write about Art Therapy. Here are my thoughts:
Evidence of art therapy goes back to the Paleolithic Age in Spain and France, approximately 40,000 years ago, when horses were a popular form of self-expression on the walls of caves. Contemporary “noninterventionist” art therapy began in the 1940s in sanitariums for tuberculosis. Adrian Hill’s book Art Versus Illness expanded on Edward Adamson’s work in England. After fleeing the war in Austria in 1944, Edith Kramer founded the art therapy graduate program at New York University and served as Adjunct Professor. Soon, many hospitals and mental health facilities began including art therapy programs. Today, as a form of self expression and to discover and express inner feelings and release trauma, art therapy can be found in:
- Medical and outpatient hospitals and clinics, including veterans hospitals, mental health treatment centers, and places that treat autism and sexual abuse;
- Schools of every size and level of student, including special needs, colleges and universities;
- Correctional facilities of all kinds;
- Nursing homes,
- Halfway houses;
- Residential treatment facilities; and
- Private practice.
This form of self-expression treatment is for a wide range of purposes, from post traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI), autism and sexual abuse, cancer, anxiety, depression, personality disorder, and schizophrenia. Numerous studies and reviews of studies between 1987 and 2009 have statistically or anecdotally supported treatment by and continued benefits of art therapy. To the claim that art therapy is not an evidence-based practice, the following arguments are made:
- Art is a unique act, the evidence of which survives, that clearly expresses a person’s interior and exterior connectedness that is touchable and reviewable;
- Art reveals unconscious psychological profiles of relationships;
- As therapy, it immediately engages management of one’s psychological well-being in a dynamic interplay with others even if one is shy and desires to withhold themselves;
- Art’s culture, theory and philosophy is cumulative and unique, both individually, in one’s society, and across time. Themes and representations can be discovered and explored.
Art sessions uniquely vary depending on circumstances. Wounded war heroes in veterans facilities may have two year programs that bring them out of their shells, then allow them to begin to explore the trauma in art, then move to discussion of the events and symbolism. Sixteen week adolescent psychiatric trauma work and 4 year follow-ups of young persons following sexual abuse have been found to be beneficial, Art therapy is often combined with cognitive behavior therapy to help patients reframe the way they see things. Acupuncture, reiki, rapid eye movement therapy, and other strategies often seem to complement art therapy in reports of happiness, health, and attitudes toward the future.
Personal traumas buried deep within patients impact their self-esteem and quality of life. Going through stages of 1. Initial self-expression to 2. Delving deeper into the traumatic incidents to 3. Managing self-care and healing through connecting cognitive behavioral and art therapy with other wholistic approaches. Decreases in anxiety, depression, and other DSM standards have been measured in many tests.
Autistic students doing art therapy have been measured to do significantly better in school with art therapy in as little as a year. Depending on the expertise of the art therapist and the patient, improvements can be noted in one or more sessions. Healing from certain psychiatric conditions such as PTSD and TBI takes longer. Cancer support patients have been measured to benefit significantly from the bonding in art therapy groups, and the shift of focus to expression in the physical world.
Young and old personalities who have been traumatized physically or emotionally, those who are under attack from sickness, chemical imbalance, or brain malfunction such as autism all seem to benefit. In addition, prisoners, homeless persons, and those recovering from addictions seem to benefit from art therapy if the mind and perspective can be redirected to a healthier way of seeing things. These persons seem to benefit most. Still, those who do not maximally benefit seem to find peace. For normal persons, this is a rare commodity and is something to covet.
Works Cited (Links open in new window/tab.)
Geue, et al. “An overview of art therapy interventions for cancer patients and the results of research.” Contemporary Therapies in Medicine. Volume 18, Issues 3–4, June–August 2010, Pages 160-170. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0197455617301053
Shella. Tamara. “Art therapy improves mood, and reduces pain and anxiety when offered at bedside during acute hospital treatment.” The Arts in Psychotherapy. Volume 57, February 2018, Pages 59-64. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0197455615300113
Gilroy. Andrea. Art Therapy, Research and Evidence-based Practice. Sage Publications, Ltd. 2005.
Walker. Et al. “Art therapy for PTSC and TBI: A senior active duty military service member’s therapeutic journey”. The Arts in Psychotherapy. May 2016.