Art Therapy In Treating Mental Illness


Experts estimate that mental illnesses affect one in every three people. Imagine the extent and how widespread these conditions if their estimation is correct. The incidence of mental illness is at its all-time high, and the increase of these cases are attributed to the use of technology and probably, due to the lesser stigma about the condition, more and more people are seeking help and openly talking about it; thus, contributing to the statistics. concurs.

Claire Henderson, PhD,  and co-authors, wrote that “Evidence suggests that factors increasing the likelihood of treatment avoidance or delay before presenting for care include (1) lack of knowledge to identify features of mental illnesses, (2) ignorance about how to access treatment, (3) prejudice against people who have mental illness, and (4) expectation of discrimination against people diagnosed with mental illness.”

In modern medicine, the treatment focuses mainly on pharmacology and psychotherapy.  Innovation and research continue to find a deeper understanding of the conditions and procedures; however, according to numerous accounts, people suffering from mental disorders shared that art therapy is a significant factor in their recovery.




Psychotherapy takes many forms. One of which is art therapy that utilizes artistic mediums to aid people in the exploration of their emotions and thoughts in a different vehicle.

“Art therapy utilizes images, metaphors, and a “right brain” approach to understanding yourself and your life,” shares Lara Hanson, LCSW, a verified therapist of Psychology Today. “By tapping into a creative, imaginative side of yourself there becomes a new “window” or type of view into yourself that allows you to more effectively solve problems through a different perspective.”

The rationale behind this treatment is the utilization of art as a primary means of communication, which can be useful for instances where the individual finds it difficult to verbalize his thoughts and feelings. Using motor skills and physical objects like paper, paintbrushes, often foster an atmosphere of connection between the artist and people around them. Other than helping those with mental health issues, art therapy is advantageous to different people including young children, elderly and those serving their sentences in prison.

Art therapy functions as a three-way process between the client, therapist and the result. It offers an opportunity for creativity and expression. An art session can either be done in a one to one or group class depending on the needs of the client. Since art therapy is highly versatile, it can be carried out in a variety of settings: schools, hospitals, community centers, etc.  The therapy typically lasts around 1 to 1.5 hours and should be done regularly. During the session, involvement or participation in the activity will solely depend on the individual and if you are in a group session, observing the class is also allowed. As part of the therapy, the counselor may encourage you to display your work in front of everyone. This way it can help the patient accept his emotions and feel social acceptance when shared with others.

“Art therapy bypasses the left side and stimulates the traumatic memory on the right side, as the individual processes their artwork, the speech area of the brain reactivates thereby reintegrating the right and left sides of the brain to promote healthy brain functioning,”  noted Susan Clifton, MSW, LCSW, a facilitator of psychotherapy groups and family and couple sessions and the Social Work Director for Dorothea Dix Hospital.

The versatility of art therapy can curb boredom when using different mediums. Examples of these are:



Creating a painting from a blank canvas is one of the purest forms of arts. It gives you the freedom to do whatever you want. It can be intimidating especially for first timers, but your art therapist will guide you by providing exercises and prompts. The therapists will also teach the basic techniques of painting




Sculpting is creating a figure using clay or other pliable materials. It allows the creation of the concrete structure of something intangible. You can bring to life your emotions and feelings.



Some people feel more comfortable in familiar and straightforward mediums. In a drawing, the materials needed are readily available.



Utilizing the camera as a tool to see the world in a different perspective, hopefully giving motivation and venue for self-expression for patients with mental illness.