Why I Use Art in Therapy
A teenager sits quietly in a comfortable chair while her mother sits on a couch nearby. Her arms are folded and she appears very angry. Her posture is very stiff. The mother is telling the therapist about recent events for the family. The mother leaves the room to give the therapist and her daughter time to work. The therapist attempts to engage the girl in conversation. The girl provides very brief direct answers. The therapist asks the girl if she would like to work on a painting project. The girl comes to the table and appears to relax. After two minutes, the girl is sharing with the therapist about her week as she paints. After five minutes, the girl has opened up and is talking freely about her feelings regarding her relationship with her family. The girl continues to use water colors to express her anger as she shares her feelings with the therapist.
Art is often used in psychotherapy to explore and process emotions. Different from art therapy, the use of art in psychotherapy is one tool that therapists often use with both children and adults. Here are some benefits of using art in therapy:
Art is a great way to share feelings that you cannot yet verbalize
I often give children the opportunity to either draw a picture of an experience or feeling or share it verbally with me. Children will often choose to draw a picture of something that happened. Children and adults often find it much easier to put feelings into either realistic or abstract art.
Art is a great form of relaxation and mindfulness
Painting, drawing, and coloring mandalas are just a few of the different ways that art can be used for promoting mindfulness. When you are making art, you need to be in the moment. Art is a great way of mindfulness for those who struggle to sit still and meditation.
Art Is Calming
Art engages the artist in a sensory experience which can be calming for children who struggle to regulate their emotions and bodies.
Art Provides An Opportunity For Expression That is Very Personal
I emphasize to my patients that art is made for the artist. It is about the experience of making art and the feelings expressed. Art is not made for someone else. Sometimes that artist might want to put effort into a piece and then rip it up or throw it out. That is a personal choice because art is all about personal expression.
Art Increases Self-Confidence and Self-Esteem
Art involves mastery of one’s skills, equipment, and ideas. Through achieving mastery and producing meaningful work, children grow in their self-confidence and self-esteem.
Adults can model that it is okay to “not be perfect” through art
Through art, I can model for children that it is okay to make mistakes. I am able, when drawing or painting, to show that I can make a goof, take some deep breathes to stay calm, and then get back to work. Children all have had the experience of struggling to make a drawing come out the way they would like and understand that frustration very well. By modeling how to cope in a calm way with a familiar frustration, I am able to really show kids options for coping with frustrations.
Making art is fun
You cannot be totally serious when using Play-Doh or paint or any medium. Art lends itself to laughter and the enjoyment children experience when they both make and share their art. Sharing art with children helps develop and maintain the therapeutic relationship, promotes sharing of feelings, and helps children to feel more comfortable in therapy.
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