The therapeutic value of art

Your brain on art

When we engage in the creation of our own art forms, we receive big benefits to our minds, both physically and mentally. When we produce art with our own hands, there is increased neural connectivity in the area of the brain that deals with introspection, memory, and self-monitoring.

by Caileigh Flannigan

Paint, Sculpt, or Color Your Way to Relaxation

It seems that everyone today has some level of stress in his or her everyday life. Whether it is rooted in work, school, the past, or personal relationships, stress is a huge part of our lives. Stress can have many negative effects on physical and psychological systems. An inability to positively control or manage stress may lead to inappropriate behavior such as alcohol consumption, overeating, or neglecting feelings. It’s important to know that stress can be managed effectively, at very little cost, and in a fun way! Art therapy is a great therapeutic approach that you can use in your daily life to keep your stress levels low and your contentedness high.

What is Art Therapy?

What is Art Therapy

Art therapy is an approach that involves the creative processes of art to improve one’s life. For example, drawing, coloring, painting, doodling, and sculpting are all examples of art forms that can be used as a means of therapy. Using art as a medium for healing promotes self-exploration, understanding, self-esteem, and awareness. It is a way for a person to improve their mental, emotional, and physical state

s, as well as their overall health. When you use imagery, colors, shapes, and designs as a part of your therapeutic process, your thoughts and feelings can be expressed through your art, rather than words that are often difficult to articulate to others. This means that you do not have to verbalize how you are feeling.

Art therapy can be done in counseling, where you work one-on-one with a trained and certified art therapist. However, the healing potential of art is not only effective in a counseling or psychotherapy setting. Art therapy techniques and approaches can be completed at home, work, or school without a therapist. In some methods of art therapy, you are your own therapist.

This is one of the great things about art therapy – you can practice antistress art anywhere! Art can be practiced at work, at home, on the bus, or during any downtime. Rather than stressing out about the next big meeting, you can color or doodle on some paper. You can release negative emotions about your job or personal relationships through artwork. This, in turn, helps overcome the stress, avoids further upset and creates a coping strategy for future stressful times.

Who Can Benefit from Art Therapy?

You don’t need to be a talented artist to engage in art therapy or to enjoy its benefits. After all, the goal is not to create a masterpiece but to express yourself freely through art; the artistic results are secondary to the emotional benefits. Art therapy improves the lives of many people. It can help people who have been exposed to loss or trauma. It can support people in overcoming addiction and mental health disorders. It has even been used in hospital settings for cancer patients. It’s also a common expressive therapy for children. The great thing about art therapy is that it can help the lives of so many people – even if you do not have a major concern or illness. Art therapy is beneficial to people who experience the stressors of everyday modern life.

Have you ever noticed how expressive arts therapy is calming and peaceful? Have you ever come home from a long work day in front of the computer and needed an outlet that wasn’t a screen? Engaging in art techniques can clear the mind, let us put feelings and thoughts onto paper or canvas, and leave us feeling accomplished and calm. It is a great option for people who experience even minor stress or upset in their lives.

Your Brain on Art

When we engage in the creation of our own art forms, we receive big benefits to our minds, both physically and mentally. When we produce art with our own hands, there is increased neural connectivity in the area of the brain that deals with introspection, memory, and self-monitoring. This means that this area is more active when engaged in producing art. Mentally, we become more psychologically resilient, we have increased positive perspectives, and become more self-aware. This makes us better at coping with future problems, stressors, or events. It is said that the pairing of actually creating the art (motor processing) and thinking about expression (cognitive processing) is what makes art therapy so beneficial.

Types of Art Therapy for Different Feelings and Emotions

To do art therapy, you can either take a nondirected or directed approach. A nondirected approach is flexible, and less structured than a directed approach. For example, you would draw, paint, color, or sculpt without guidelines. A directed approach is more structured in the sense that you choose an art therapy activity that relates to certain feelings and emotions. With either approach, your feelings are expressed, and your stress levels decrease. The benefits of art therapy are provided in both approaches. Here are some examples of art therapy activities related to feelings and emotions that you can try:


• Paint or draw your emotions. Here, you want to think about how you are feeling and put that feeling into paper, however you see it.
• Create an emotion wheel. You’ll want to use lots of color for this activity! Label each emotion with a color that fits for you.
• Design a postcard that you will never send. This activity helps with releasing anger in a way that never has to be presented to someone else.
• Coloring books for emotions. You can buy, or print, certain coloring pages that were created to release emotions.


• Make a collage related to a quote that speaks to you. Turn words that mean a lot to you and turn it into a visual that is inspiring.
• Draw a wild invention. This activity will get your creative juices flowing and will most likely be wild and funny!
• Draw animals you love. For some people, animals are a source of love and happiness. Draw the ones that you love the most (your own pet included).
• Draw, color, or paint your idea of the perfect day or perfect home. This activity will help you create a visual of spaces and things that feel safe and warm to you.


• Paint or color while listening to music. When art and music are paired together, our brains and bodies can relax.
• Make a mandala. You can either print one off or draw your own – this is a meditative symbol that is relaxing to look at and work with.
• Draw something very big! Get out the large pieces of paper or a big cardboard box and get your body moving.
• Choose colors that are relaxing and calming to you and only use those. Sometimes certain colors elicit different feelings for us. Choose ones that speak to you.
• Draw, paint, or sculpt outdoors. The sights, sounds, and atmosphere of the outdoors, when paired with art, are very relaxing.

Trauma and Loss

• Create a collage of your worries. Put whatever worries you in your life on paper.
• Turn illness into a masterpiece. If you or someone close to you is ill, turn those feelings into something meaningful.
• Paint someone you have lost. If you have lost someone close to you, remember him or her and make that special person close to you again.
• Draw a safe space. You can refer to your safe space when you need a reminder.

Types of Art Therapy

Other Types of Art Therapy

Art therapy is available in adult coloring books that are affordable, easy, and even portable. It would be best to go look at these books and take a peek inside. Think about which ones elicit different feelings, and choose one that speaks to you and how you are feeling or what you are going through.

Another form of art therapy is paint nights. This type of art therapy is done in a group setting and often held at local restaurants and bars. You go with friends and sit with other people who are all painting the same picture. In the end, you see how everyone painted the same picture differently. You can also host your own paint night by gathering up some friends or family and purchasing some paint and canvas. You can designate a specific picture for everyone to draw, or you can leave it up to the group! Art therapy in a group allows for free expression in an environment that is safe and accepting.

Art therapy is an easy, affordable, and beneficial way to express feelings, reduce stress, and remind us of the happy things. We are able to put difficult feelings into something visual and meaningful. When we draw, color, or paint, our brains become active and are better at helping us out with any future stressors.

Be creative, expressive, and be you through art therapy!


Caileigh is a play practitioner who uses forms of play such as exploring the outdoors and experimenting with loose parts as a way to promote children’s development and emotional healing. She is spreading the word about the importance of childhood development through free play in natural environments.

Original Article by PartSelect blog

Written by Caileigh Flannigan

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The value of Art Therapy for those on the Autism Spectrum

9 replies on “The therapeutic value of art”
  1. says: Ann Riggott

    I am one on the autism spectrum and also am a professional artist. The difference in my life and verbal abilities greatly improved through my art. I give a talk titled, “Finding My Voice” (and working on a book) that tells the story of how I found my voice through my art. I am a big advocate of using art as a means to each and teach those who struggle.

    1. says: admin

      Ann if you would ever like to share your talk “Finding Your Voice” on the Art of Autism we’d love to hear your story.

      1. says: Ann Riggott

        No articles but I have a link to the talk I gave last fall. The project where I spoke was not working and so the people recording used just some of images of my paintings that are a bit distorted. Not sure how else to share it with The Art of Autism so will put the link in here and you can repost it elsewhere if you think it appropriate. Thank you.

        1. says: Ann Riggott

          Sorry, I keep screwing my replies up and don’t know how to edit them. Here again is the link and if you go half way down the page the title is of video is “September 15th – Ann Riggott tells her story.”

  2. says: Valerie Epstein-Johnson, ATR, LPC

    While I very much appreciate the promotion of art therapy’s benefits and the benefits of personal art-making for self-expression, this article is misleading in a number of ways. Art Therapy is only done with a trained art therapist; it is a therapeutic modality that integrates the presence and feedback of the therapist with the therapeutic processes of the sessions. It is not personal art-making and it is definitely not paint parties or coloring books. Those things may well be therapeutic for some but it does not serve the public or art therapists to suggest that any therapeutic art making or any art making, for that matter, is art therapy. Also, art therapy is not always a direct path to contentment or relaxation. Like any form of counseling or therapy, art therapy allows for authentic self-expression and exploration of whatever is present for the client, which may well be pain, anger, confusion, or any number of unpleasant emotional experiences. The idea is to explore truth with someone trained in what to do with what is stirred up. No coloring book or even lone individual can do that. It is wonderful to promote the use of art for healing and growth, but it is inaccurate and demeaning to suggest that it is the same as “art therapy,” as though you can do it on yourself with some art materials, so why would you pay trained professionals, or license them, or allow them to be paid by insurance companies as other mental health professionals are? We are trained at the graduate level for 2-3 years, engage in supervised field work for 2 years, and most of us pass our state licensing exams as professional counselors, enabling us to diagnose and integrate a variety of counseling modalities with art therapy if we so choose. In some states art therapists are licensed as art therapists with these capabilities. There are many ramifications of equating any art making with art therapy that affect clients, therapists, and perceptions about mental health care in negative ways, so please define your terms and learn from the experts in the field next time.

  3. says: Lorraine Dempsey, ATR-BC, LPAT

    I appreciate Ms. Epstein-Johnson’s articulate response to your article. I am disturbed by your article’s misleading definition of art therapy as well. Art therapy is a distinct mental health profession, practiced by Master’s level clinicians. Following graduation by an approved ,accredited university, art therapist’s complete many hours of supervision to become registered with the American Art Therapy Association (ATR). Many art therapists then sit for the National Board Certification, which is required by most employers (ATR-BC). Licensure for the profession exists and is growing in many states. I am now a Licensed Professional Art Therapist in the state of Delaware. It is incredibly frustrating to read an inaccurate article claiming that art therapy can be done alone and is paint nights at clubs or adult coloring books.

    The following is the American Art Therapy Association (AATA) definition of art therapy:

    “Art therapy is an integrative mental health and human services profession that enriches the lives of individuals, families, and communities through active art-making, creative process, applied psychological theory, and human experience within a psychotherapeutic relationship.

    Art therapy, facilitated by a professional art therapist, effectively supports personal and relational treatment goals as well as community concerns. Art therapy is used to improve cognitive and sensorimotor functions, foster self-esteem and self-awareness, cultivate emotional resilience, promote insight, enhance social skills, reduce and resolve conflicts and distress, and advance societal and ecological change.”

    It is my opinion that the above article is an incorrect representation of art therapy and should be corrected or removed.

  4. says: Abby

    Hello I am in my last semester of my masters level art therapy program at my college and I wanted to make a small correction to some of your infographic. You are not your own therapist in art therapy, you work with a trained and certified/licensed art therapist. “Art therapy coloring books” are not art therapy. Working with an art therapist builds a therapeutic relationship built on trust between the client and art therapist and without that relationship with a trained art therapist, it is not art therapy. Art therapists get the same amount and level of training as lmhc’s, lmft’s, etc.

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