How Does Art Therapy Work

How Does Art Therapy Work? 

Art therapy offers a wide range of benefits for people interested in improving their mental health. Whether you’re interested in unlocking your creativity and experiencing true self-expression or developing a closer relationship with yourself, art therapy can help.

In this article, we’re taking a closer look at the benefits of art therapy and answering a common question we hear from visitors – how does art therapy work?

How Does Art Therapy Work?

Mental health disorders are an increasing issue for the worldwide population. Standard approaches to treating mental health symptoms rely on traditional therapy and psychiatric medications. For those looking to find a type of therapy that falls a bit outside of the traditional norm, art therapy may be the right fit.

Related: Art Therapy Projects for Addiction Recovery

The History of Art Therapy

Art therapy began to take shape in the early part of the 1900s. Two, prominent, female artists began to notice the positive effect that guided art projects had on their participants. Their observable results gained them the honorary title of “therapist,” far before art therapy had become an officially recognized modality. Nearly a century later, art therapy had become a well-established and respected application. Today, it is a specialty all to its own and requires specific training and certifications to deliver it in fidelity. 

As it has evolved, art therapy has expanded to encompass a large range of mediums. Some of the standard means of artistic expression are promoted, such as drawing and painting. Those who prefer a more tactile experience may enjoy hands-on art projects, such as sculpting or pottery. True to our times, there are even opportunities to participate in art therapy through creation of digital media.

Benefits of Art Therapy

The benefits that are gained from participating in art therapy are as varied and unique as the individuals creating the art. While the focus of the therapy may be on one, specific, mental health issue, the following are some of the universal benefits that participants can expect to gain. These attributes of art therapy can make for a happier, healthier, life for all who engage.

Emotional Release

Psychotherapists will note that many clients will express relief from mental health symptoms after simply unloading their concerns on the therapist during a session. Being able to openly express emotions that have been pent up for a long time has a healing effect. People can tend to struggle to find a safe space to let these feelings out within their personal lives, as there can be social consequences for expressing oneself genuinely while in public. Art therapy provides a means for those types of feelings to come out in a way that is socially acceptable. In addition to letting some of the negative energy out through an art medium, the act of creating an artistic work simultaneously provides a boost of positive chemicals. Undergoing the creative process causes the brain to release dopamine, which is a chemical responsible for causing us to experience pleasurable feelings.

Increased Confidence

Around puberty, many people start to struggle with issues surrounding self-confidence. Without it, just going about daily life can be stressful. We can tend to underestimate ourselves in careers and with relationships. We can self-sabotage by stressing so much about our inabilities that we fail to perform at our best when we go to task. A person with low self-confidence will be reluctant to take on new challenges and will tend to be overly critical of any results that are produced.

One of the magic aspects of art therapy is that, under a trained professional, a participant begins to learn that there is no wrong way to create art. Creating art is inherently a subjective experience, and the interpretation of it is, as well. This means that, whatever you create, you have done a good job. Experiencing small wins in this way can lead to increased confidence to explore new options and be less critical of your own, individualized, life journey.

Decreased Stress

Relieving emotional tension and gaining a self-esteem boost paves the way for the related benefit of decreased stress, overall. When we are stressed, our minds are consumed with problems that don’t seem to have a solution. Ironically, the more we think about our problems while under stress, the less likely we are to find viable ways of solving our issues. Creating art provides an oasis for decompression, which can result in approaching the struggles of daily life with a refreshed and renewed perspective.

Healthy Socialization

While it may be that your art therapist directs you to complete some solo activities, most art therapy programs include a group element. While in group art therapy, you will be in a place that is safe to laugh, cry, share insecurities, and receive affirmations. The types of bonds that are formed in effective group therapy can last a lifetime, and group therapies that are centered around creating art provide fertile ground for learning to let your guard down and enjoy the nonjudgmental company of others. Your trained art therapist will know how to guide the group in this direction of positive regard for your fellow, budding, artists.

Applications of Art Therapy

The benefits of art therapy can extend from treating extreme conditions to enhancing the life of someone who is already maintaining.

As it is a relative newcomer to the scene of vetted therapy techniques, the empirical evidence for treating specific diagnoses is continually being generated.

The following are some of the more common mental health diagnoses which are effectively treated through art therapy.

Mood Disorders

Mood disorders refer to conditions such as depression, bipolar disorder, and general lack of luster toward life. Using art therapy as a medium for depicting the emotional struggles as you experience them can clear the way for new inspirations and resolves to shine through, and having the support of your artistic peers can boost even the cloudiest of moods.

Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorders are those which keep a person on edge all the time. The concentration and focus that is needed to put your heart and soul into a work of art will provide a welcome relief from obsessing on whatever situation keeps you up at night. Art therapy for anxiety has been found to facilitate a sense of calm for an otherwise chaotic mind.

Learn more about Anxiety Treatment.

Personality Disorders

Those with personality disorders often find it difficult to communicate with the population at large. The thoughts and feelings that go along with this category of the disorder can be more intense, and more disjointed, than average. Using art to express vivid imaginations, unique experiences, and an extensive range of emotions can be very healing for a person with a personality disorder.

Addiction Recovery

Art therapy is often integrated into programs offering addiction recovery programs, including intensive outpatient programs and outpatient programs.

This type of therapy provides a safe place where people can discover new mediums of self-expression, where they can freely express themselves. This is helpful for some people who may not be able to express their feelings with words.

Learn more about our Los Angeles IOP and Houston IOP for drug addiction recovery help.


Art therapy can provide the freedom you need to unlock your creativity and develop a closer relationship with yourself. This can be an important part of your journey, whether you’re improving your mental health or traveling on the path to addiction recovery.

Art therapy can also spark interests in new hobbies, which can prove beneficial for people in need of a personal outlet to express themselves moving forward.