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Art Therapy


Art Therapy


The research is to find out where the therapy originated, including the name of the person who first introduced the therapy and a brief history if possible. Provide a short summary of any clinical research or scientific evidence that supports the validity of the therapy. List of conditions the therapy is best suited to treat. A summary of how the therapy works to assist the client. Contras or dangers associated with using the therapy. A bibliography listing the resources used to find the information, including websites and publications.


Invented in the 1970s by Paul McNiff and Paolo Knill and others at Lesley College Graduate School in Cambridge, MA. This development saw the creation of the American Art Therapy Association in 1979.

The purpose of art therapy is essentially one of healing. Art therapy can be successfully applied to clients with physical, mental or emotional problems, diseases and disorders. Any type of visual art and art medium can be employed within the therapeutic process, including painting, drawing, sculpting, photography, and digital art.

One proposed learning mechanism is through the increased excitation, and as a consequence, strengthening of neuronal connections.

General illness

Art making is a common activity used by many people to cope with illness. Art and the creative process can alleviate many illnesses (cancer, heart disease, influenza, etc.). This form of therapy helps benefit those who suffer from mental illnesses as well (chronic depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorders, etc.). People can escape the emotional effects of illness through art making and many creative methods. Sometimes people cannot express the way they feel, as it can be difficult to put into words, and art can help people express their experiences. “During art therapy, people can explore past, present and future experiences using art as a form of coping”. Art can be a refuge for the intense emotions associated with illness; there are no limits to the imagination in finding creative ways to express emotions.

Hospitals have started studying the influence of arts on patient care and found that participants in art programs have better vitals and fewer complications sleeping. Artistic influence doesn’t need to be participation in a program, but studies have found that a landscape picture in a hospital room had reduced need for narcotic painkillers and less time in recovery at the hospital. In addition, either looking at or creating art in hospitals helped stabilize vital signs, speed up the healing process, and in general, bring a sense of hope and soul to the patient. Family, care workers, doctors and nurses were equally positively affected.

Cancer diagnosis

Art therapists have conducted studies to understand why some cancer patients turned to art making as a coping mechanism and a tool to creating a positive identity outside of being a cancer patient. Women in the study participated in different art programs ranging from pottery and card making to drawing and painting. The programs helped them regain an identity outside of having cancer, lessened emotional pain of their on- going fight with cancer, and also giving them hope for the future.

In a study involving women facing cancer-related difficulties such as fear, pain, altered social relationships, etc., it was found that:

Engaging in different types of visual art (textiles, card making, collage, pottery, watercolour, acrylics) helped these women in 4 major ways. First, it helped them focus on positive life experiences, relieving their ongoing preoccupation with cancer. Second, it enhanced their self-worth and identity by providing them with opportunities to demonstrate continuity, challenge, and achievement. Third, it enabled them to maintain a social identity that resisted being defined by cancer. Finally, it allowed them to express their feelings in a symbolic manner, especially during chemotherapy.

Another study showed those who participated in these types of activities were discharged earlier than those who did not participate.

Studies have also shown how the emotional distress of cancer patients has been reduced when utilizing the creative process. The women made drawings of themselves throughout the treatment process while also doing yoga and meditating; these actions combined helped to alleviate some symptoms.

A review of 12 studies investigating the use of art therapy in cancer patients by Wood, Molassiotis, and Payne investigated the symptoms of emotional, social, physical, global functioning, and spiritual controls of cancer patients. They found that art therapy could improve the process of psychological readjustment to the change, loss, and uncertainty associated with surviving cancer. It was also suggested that art therapy could provide a sense of “meaning-making” because of the physical act of creating the art. When given five individual sessions of art therapy once per week, art therapy was shown to be useful for personal empowerment by helping the cancer patients understand their own boundaries in relation to the needs of other people. In turn, those who had art therapy treatment felt more connected to others and found social interaction more enjoyable than individuals who did not receive art therapy treatment. Furthermore, art therapy improved motivation levels, abilities to discuss emotional and physical health, general well-being, and increased global quality of life in cancer patients.

Disaster relief

Art therapy has been used in a variety of traumatic experiences, including disaster relief and crisis intervention. Art therapists have worked with children, adolescents and adults after natural and manmade disasters, encouraging them to make art in response to their experiences. Some suggested strategies for working with victims of disaster include: assessing for distress or post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), normalizing feelings, modelling coping skills, promoting relaxation skills, establishing a social support network, and increasing a sense of security and stability.


While art therapy helps with behavioural issues it does not appear to affect worsening mental abilities. Tentative evidence supports benefits with respect to quality of life.


Art therapy is increasingly recognized to help address challenges of people with autism, as evidenced through these sources.


A 2005 systematic review of art therapy as an add on treatment for schizophrenia found unclear effects.

Trauma and children

Art therapy may alleviate trauma-induced emotions, such as shame and anger. It is also likely to increase trauma survivors’ sense of empowerment and control by encouraging children to make choices in their artwork.

Because traumatic memories are encoded visually creating art may be the most effective way to access them. Through art therapy, children may be able to make more sense of their traumatic experiences and form accurate trauma narratives. Gradual exposure to these narratives may reduce trauma-induced symptoms, such as flashbacks and nightmares.

Children who have experienced trauma may benefit from group art therapy. The group format is effective in helping survivors develop relationships with others who have experienced similar situations. Group art therapy may also be beneficial in helping children with trauma regain trust and social self-
esteem.[26] Usually, participants who undergo art therapy through group interventions have positive experiences and give their internal feelings validation.

Eating disorders

Traumatic or negative childhood experiences can result in unintentionally harmful coping mechanisms, such as eating disorders. As a result, clients may be cut off from their emotions, self-rejecting, and detached from their strengths. Art therapy may provide an outlet for exploring these inaccessible strengths and emotions; this is important because persons with eating disorders may not know how to vocalize their emotions.

Art therapy may be beneficial for clients with eating disorders because clients can create visual representations with art material of progress made, represent alterations to the body, and provide a nonthreatening method of acting out impulses. Individuals with eating disorders tend to rely heavily
on defence mechanisms to feel a sense of control; it is important that clients feel a sense of authority over their art products through freedom of expression and controllable art materials. Through controllable media, such as pencils, markers, and colour pencils, along with freedom of choice with the media, clients with eating disorders can create boundaries around unsettling themes.


The term containment, within art therapy and other therapeutic settings, has been used to describe what the client can experience within the safety and privacy of a trusting relationship between client and counsellor. This term has also been equated, within art therapy research, with the holding or confining of an issue within the boundaries of visual expression, like a border or the circumference of a mandala. The creation of mandalas for symptom regulation is not a new approach within the field of art therapy, and numerous studies have been conducted in order to assess their efficacy.


An interesting read:
This evidence review was conducted in two parts:

* A systematic review of the scientific evidence of the clinical effectiveness of art therapy

* An environmental scan on practice of art therapy within the psychology profession in Australia Key findings

Question 1:

What is the current evidence of the clinical effectiveness of art therapy?

* Nine primary studies and six systematic reviews that have evaluated the clinical effectives of art therapy have been published since 2012.

* Art therapy has been used to treat physical and psychological trauma, thus these studies are relevant for TAC clients.

* There is moderate evidence that art therapy can significantly reduce depression and anxiety symptoms associated with psychological trauma based on four primary and one systematic review study.

* There is very limited evidence that art therapy can significantly reduce depression symptoms for individuals with physical trauma based on one study?

*The long-term efficacy of art therapy is unclear?

Question 2:

What is the status of art therapy within the psychology profession in Australia?

* Psychologists, counsellors and social workers can work with qualified art therapists to provide interdisciplinary therapy.

* Evidence Review 212 / 5

* The peak art therapy professional organisations in Australia are the Professional Associatio

* For Arts Therapy in Australia, New Zealand and Singapore (ANZATA) and the Australian

* Creative Arts Therapies Association (ACATA).

* To be eligible for membership of ANZATA, art therapists must have completed an approve.

* Masters level course in art therapy.

* Two accredited training institutions in Victoria offered Master of Art Therapy courses.

* In February 2018 there were 56 art therapists in the Melbourne area who were members of a professional organisation.

* Public and private health institutions in Victoria offer art therapy for mental health and medical conditions.

NOTES AND REFERENCES: inical+research+scientific+evidence&ots=HnjFJrvKka&sig=X1smkKRmGTVTkMIfZsfijXOGTgM#v=one page&q=art%20therapy%20Clinical%20research%20scientific%20evidence&f=false

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