What are the healing powers of art? And can art therapy be used to improve mental health?
From the animals dancing on the walls of Paleolithic caves to the Harlem Renaissance, the resonance of art in our world is loud and deeply felt. As we continue to carry histories and emotions, our propensity to turn to art has spanned across the desert of time.
While some believe that art can evoke emotions that go beyond words, others agree that art can captivate the soul, body, and mind. Recently, researchers studied the healing power of art. Through reviewing literature, they explored the effects of art therapy on mental health.
Art therapy, which encompasses theater, dance, music, photography, drawing, painting, and crafts, is currently used in several recovery and treatment procedures. When art therapy became a formalized curriculum in 1940, our dependence on the arts for self-expression, healing, and communication became clear. Researchers found that art can improve mental health, slow cognitive decline, build self-esteem, and enhance one’s quality of life. Moreover, as a powerful, patient-centered tool, art can impart insight, decrease stress, heal trauma, increase memory and neurosensory capacities, and improve interpersonal relationships.
In a randomized control trial (RCT) by Ciasca et al., 60 stable, pharmacologically treated women with Major Depressive Disorder received either art therapy or care as usual. In the art therapy condition, therapists introduced artistic resources such as weaving, collage, clay modelling, drawing, and painting and guided participants in using them. Following the intervention, patients who received art therapy experienced less depression and anxiety symptoms than patients in the control condition. While these observations were consistent with other forms of nonpharmacological treatment, such as psychotherapy, the researchers found that during artistic output, emotions and feelings could be formulated and revaluated. Art as an outlet, allowed for new insights and forms of expression that led to less negative thoughts and feelings of sadness . In another study, patients with Alzheimer’s disease who participated in art interventions experienced improved quality of life and self-actualization.
Currently, art therapy is used as a treatment modality for people with cancer, autism, HIV disease, Alzheimer’s disease, COVID-19, dementia, and Parkinson’s disease. The therapeutic and psychological impact of art is consistent. These findings demonstrate the healing power of art and the value it can bring to the lives of people who are managing medical and mental health disorders.
By: Helena Zhang, BS
- Shukla A, Choudhari SG, Gaidhane AM, Quazi Syed Z. Role of Art Therapy in the Promotion of Mental Health: A Critical Review. Cureus. 2022 Aug 15;14(8):e28026. doi: 10.7759/cureus.28026. PMID: 36134083; PMCID: PMC9472646.
- Ciasca EC, Ferreira RC, Santana CLA, Forlenza OV, Dos Santos GD, Brum PS, Nunes PV. Art therapy as an adjuvant treatment for depression in elderly women: a randomized controlled trial. Braz J Psychiatry. 2018 Jul-Sep;40(3):256-263. doi: 10.1590/1516-4446-2017-2250. Epub 2018 Feb 1. PMID: 29412335; PMCID: PMC6899401.