Can art therapy really help to improve our mental health?

What is art therapy used for?

Art therapies can be helpful when treating or learning to cope with all kinds of mental health conditions from anxiety and depression to addictions and eating disorders. They are generally used in addition to other treatment methods such as medication or counselling sessions.

Art therapy has been shown to be particularly helpful amongst those who feel distanced from their feelings or who find it too upsetting to talk about painful experiences.

What are the benefits of the different types of art therapies?

Music therapy

In music therapy, participants communicate with their therapist through music either, playing, singing or listening to it. The benefits include:

  • It can help to communicate difficult feelings and memories that people find too hard to put into words
  • It can help bring back old feelings and memories people have forgotten, thus helping to deal with difficult things from the past and move on
  • It gets patients used to expressing themselves so they can eventually talk or write about their feelings more easily
  • Therapists can use music to communicate with patients even if they’re not consciously listening

Dance movement therapy

Dance therapy uses dance and movement to help patients express how they’re feeling. It can help people to become more aware of the emotions they find difficult to talk about and to become more comfortable with their body. It’s particularly helpful when:

  • People have negative thoughts about their body. For example, mental health problems related to appearance such as an eating disorder or body dysmorphic disorder (BDD)
  • Emotional problems come out as physical illness. For example, if a patient has depression they may experience physical pain as part of this
  • Patients find physical contact with others difficult or feel detached or disconnected from their surroundings
  • Medication is affecting the way patients move. For example, antipsychotics can make someone stiff or slow
  • If someone has been physically or sexually abused or has experienced trauma which affects how they feel about their body or how they hold themselves or move

Drama therapy

This is a form of therapy that uses theatre and drama. It’s usually done in groups but can also be offered on a one-to-one basis. As well as being involved in the acting, it also provides patients with the opportunity to get involved in backstage activities such as directing, creating scenery or being in charge of lighting. It can help in a number of ways including:

  • Expressing feelings through drama can help people to put difficult experiences behind them
  • Using stories, imagery or symbols can help to explore painful or difficult things that have happened
  • It can help people to explore and understand their relationships with other people and may even help to address any problems

Art therapy

Art therapy uses arts such as painting, drawing and sculpting to help people get in touch with their feelings and express themselves. It can help therapists to understand more about their patients, their feelings, what’s causing them and can even help patients learn how to deal with them. It can be beneficial in a number of ways including:

  • Objects may remind patients of past experiences and help them to express and explore feelings around them
  • Clay can be useful if someone finds using colour too difficult. For example, people suffering a manic episode may find colours are too stimulating and make the mania worse
  • Materials can be used to shape objects to mimic changes in emotions or circumstances
  • Photography can also be used to help deal with past experiences

For more information about art therapy and how it can help in the treatment of mental health conditions, please contact Life Works.

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