Art therapy to ease the mind


Vincent Van Gogh, Claude Monet, Andy Warhol and Berthe Marie Pauline Morisot are all astounding and famous artists that have left permanent brushstrokes on the world’s heart and museum’s walls. Art is a beautiful form of expression that allows emotions and skill to come together. It is an expansive form of study across the world and is now used as a therapy tool. Although we cannot all be Monets or Van Goghs, art, regardless of the technical beauty, is a very therapeutic form of expression. Colors, textures, and images can all help depict a person’s mood and through art therapy, healing can ensue.

Margaret Naumburg and Edith Kramer are the American pioneers of art therapy and Dr. Kramer founded the graduate program at NYU in 1973. Although art therapy existed before then through self reflection; the training was not official in the United States until this program opened. Contemporary art therapists are trained in human development, psychological testing and behavioral therapy and use art as a tool to allow individuals to express their feelings and thought processes, allowing them to have a sense of healing.

Art therapy has been shown to be beneficial especially in individuals who have witnessed traumatic events and have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as well as acute stress disorder, grief reaction, physical disabilities and childhood behavioral disorders.  Although art therapy technically refers to tools such as crayons or a paintbrush on a medium, other forms of art can be therapeutic as well such as music therapy, writing and poetry. Expressing emotions through creativity can give insight about one’s personal battles with their emotions or physical ailments.

A pilot study performed among Syrian refugee children in Istanbul, Turkey allowed therapists and translators to assess the children for psychological trauma and introduced a five-day art therapy program to help the children express their thoughts and feelings, improve their problem solving skills, social engagement and self-esteem. After a week, therapists saw improvements within the children. Because there were a few drawbacks to this pilot study, the authors could not confidently conclude that art therapy can improve traumatic symptoms in refugees although it may be a start. The fallbacks to this particular study were the lack of a control group, a small sample size and a short experiment time.

Art therapy has been shown to be beneficial to people of all ages including children, adolescents, adults and the elderly. Adult coloring books have even been flying off the shelves at bookstores and, although they are not an official therapy, they still promote inner expression, provide relaxation and can be an outlet for emotions.

It’s important to note that someone doesn’t need an art therapist to benefit from art therapy. If someone approaches art as therapy and learns about its basic concepts and ideas, they can learn a lot about themselves through their own creative expression. It’s something anyone can do to relieve stress, discover themselves in new ways and more.

At White River Academy we utilize different forms of therapy like art therapy to as part of our comprehensive treatment programs used to address mental health disorders and addiction. At our therapeutic boarding school we provide treatment for adolescent and teen boys aged 12 to 17 years who are struggling with behavioral health disorders. To learn more about our effective treatment programs, contact our 24/7 helpline.

About the author

Kristen Fuller M.D. enjoys writing about evidence-based topics in the cutting edge world of medicine. She is a physician author who also teaches, practices medicine in the urgent care setting and contributes to medical board education. She is an outdoors and dog enthusiast. 

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