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The Benefits of Art Therapy for Young Adults

The use of art therapy is growing. In fact, we use it extensively here at NDFYA – our California campus participates in group sessions every Friday afternoon.

Why is this type of therapy becoming prevalent? Because of the benefits associated with it.

What is Art Therapy?

The American Art Therapy Association defines art therapy as a practice that uses “art media, the creative process, and the resulting artwork to

  • explore [clients’] feelings
  • reconcile emotional conflicts
  • foster self-awareness
  • manage behavior and addictions
  • develop social skills
  • improve reality orientation
  • reduce anxiety
  • increase self-esteem”

You may also hear art therapy referred to as a creative or expressive therapy. It is used in both group and individual sessions.

The therapist may use one of a number of art media, such as:

  • painting/drawing
  • molding clay
  • crafting
  • crocheting

Many may think art therapists are simply artists with no background as therapists. This may be true for some programs, but credentialing organizations such as Art Therapy Credentials Board do exist to screen providers.

Why Art Therapy Helps

In this article by Dr. Heather Stuckey and Dr. Jeremy Nobel published by the American Journal of Public Health, the authors state that “art helps people express experiences that are too difficult to put into words.” This point was demonstrated in several studies related to the use of art therapy in cancer patients.

Some of the benefits found in these studies include:

providing patients with an outlet for expressing emotions
shorter hospital stays
fewer negative emotions and more positive emotions
fewer or reduced physical symptoms, including pain

Art Therapy and Trauma

As one of the therapies used with soldiers returning from war, art therapy helps the soldiers practice relaxation and gives them the opportunity “to think about what happened and move forward from the trauma.”

This therapy is effective in this setting because it “works at the cellular level within the brain, restoring connections that might have been damaged during a traumatic event,” says art therapist Jackie Biggs.

For trauma patients, how well the therapy works is measured by how much they’re willing to discuss about the piece they create during the session. According to this article in Art Therapy by Judith Pizarro, during a study conducted by T. Yamaguchi with Hiroshima survivors, the survivors “were not willing to discuss their war experience [in the beginning], by the middle and end of the treatment individuals were sharing experiences and engaging in greater group discussion.”

Additional Advantages of Art Therapy

Pizarro points out that another benefit of art therapy is it doesn’t require the client to read or write. If you have a child who has difficulty expressing themselves verbally, they’re still able to participate in this type of therapy.

She also found in her study that participants were more willing to continue therapy, something also noted as result of the one of the studies reviewed by Drs. Stuckey and Nobel.

Art Therapy for Your Child

Though some scientists disagree with the physical advantages of art therapy, most agree with the mental and emotional ones, such as stress relief and fostering of positive emotions. For these reasons alone it might be worth exploring as a therapy for your child.

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