How Does Creating Art Help Your Mental Health?  

Art has existed for millennia. Much of it is lost to time, but artifacts remain. 

We may never know exactly why prehistoric art like the 25,000-year-old Venus of Willendorf figurine, or the 17,000-year-old Lascaux Cave Paintings, which depict a series of various animals, were created.

They may have been for spiritual purposes, for fertility rites, or for initiation ceremonies. They also may have been created simply for the sake of art, though scholars generally believe these works were rooted in ritual. 

While this early art had a spiritual bent and perhaps expression in mind, there are many other purposes for creating art. It can be used to communicate, to convince, or to entertain. Some use art as a way to call attention to social causes or a need for political change. 

One often overlooked purpose of art is for psychological healing. Diving into creativity can be used to identify how the artist is emotionally and mentally functioning at the moment.

The Purpose of Art Therapy

Art therapists work with patients to help them grow emotionally through creative expression. Art therapy enriches mental health in many ways:

  • Cognitive and sensory-motor functions are improved, which can help original thinking and problem-solving skills. 
  • Self-esteem and self-awareness are enhanced. 
  • Social skills, emotional insight, and emotional resilience are strengthened.

Creating art not only improves quality of day-to-day life but also actively promotes cell growth in the brain, potentially staving off dementia.

Art Therapy and Addiction Recovery

There’s a common stereotype that artistic people take drugs. This is far from true. To quote the surrealist painter Salvador Dali: “I don’t do drugs. I am a drug.” Dali realized that one only needs oneself to achieve creativity. In fact, someone recovering from drug addiction may find art therapy useful. It can provide them an outlet to process and express thoughts and feelings.

A recovering addict also can practice mindfulness in art therapy. When facing triggers or cravings, creating art can serve as a distraction by allowing one to be in the moment instead of worrying about the past or future. 

Art Therapy and PTSD

Art therapy is particularly useful for children suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). That’s because youngsters often don’t know how to put their feelings or experiences into words. Or, they may have been told not to tell anyone what happened to them. Art therapy can help a child learn to explain what happened, express how they feel about it, and learn to self-regulate. Creating something helps children learn to deal with the heavy feelings inside them.

Art therapy is also useful for adults with PTSD, including military veterans. Veterans who have had art therapy have reported overwhelmingly positive experiences with it. Many admitted it became easier to express themselves through art than through words. Some also found they learned a lot about themselves and expressed a desire to continue with the art therapy sessions.

Art Therapy and Depression

People who struggle with depression and anxiety may also benefit from art therapy. It provides an opportunity to slow down and let go of any pressure or depressing thoughts they may be experiencing. People who are chemically depressed due to a lack of dopamine (commonly referred to as the “feel good” neurotransmitter) may find their levels rise when creating art. Someone who has been struggling to figure out exactly what’s been troubling them may be able to better understand the problem through art therapy. It also can provide a creative outlet, which can be profoundly satisfying in itself.

Discussing their paintings or drawings with an art therapist can help them gain insight into what they are feeling as they create. 

By Heidi Bitsoli

Sources

visual-arts-cork.com – Lascaux Cave Paintings (c.17,000 BCE)

courses.lumenlearning.com – Purposes of Art

arttherapy.org – Definition of Profession

scrippsamg.com -The Mental Health Benefits of Art

salvadordali.com – quotes

sunshinebehavioralhealth.com – Recovery in a Quiet and Welcoming Environment

northcarolinahealthnews.org – The therapeutic power of art in mental health recovery

trauma-informedpractice.com – Child Art Therapy: How It Works

ncbi.nlm.nih.gov – Art Therapy and Cognitive Processing Therapy for Combat-Related PTSD: A Randomized Controlled Trialgenesight.com – How Art Can Help People Understand and Cope with Depression

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