Art as a Self-Help Tool for Psychotherapy


Art as a self-help tool in psychotherapy treatment is now being considered as a viable method for reducing the symptoms of moderate mental health issues. Over the years self-help remedies have come in many forms from wellness media such as books, audio recordings, and motivational videos to alternative options such as life coach therapy, motivational teaching, and activities such as yoga and Pilates. Today’s more prevalent methodology for addressing emotional and psychological health has, in some circles, shifted to a more holistic approach in which the goal is to help individuals understand themselves and gain a more tactical grip upon exactly what changes in their lives need to occur in order for them to achieve the level of happiness they desire.

Swiss-British philosopher, Alain de Botton, is one of many who have decided to rebrand philosophy by taking it out of its typically stringent, medical approaches and giving it a more easily attainable, hands-on feel. Botton has written titles such as The Consolations of Philosophy and How Proust Can Change Your Life and, in doing so, earned a reputation for creating engaging, readable books that take philosophy out of its academic bonds and presents it in a way that allows it to unfold with a more practical day-to-day value.

Botton also founded the organization The School of Life, a class and lecture-based enterprise that consults both individuals and big-business and offers literature and other tools to help them find fulfillment. Within the organization, instructors offer one-on-one classes one of which, titled Visual Art Therapy, prescribes creative therapy tools such as novel-reading and painting as opposed to medication.

Another organization interested in the potential power of this alternative therapy is the International Center for Research in Art Therapies at Imperial College London in the UK. The Center conducted a research study on schizophrenic patients to determine the effect of art psychotherapy in treating their condition and its symptoms. Researchers divided participants into three groups giving one group art therapy, another standard treatment, the last was treated with group activity. Results of the study were inconclusive, but a later study by the British Medical Journal showed results of a trial evaluation study, occurring in 2012, which concluded that art therapy treatment among schizophrenic patients caused no improvement in patients’ mental health nor global functionality.

Despite the inability of the study to conclude that art is a self-help tool for psychotherapy, inclusion of the treatment was still presented in Britain’s national treatment guidelines which recommended that clinics still refer schizophrenia patients for art therapy treatment for the purpose reducing some of the negative symptoms of their condition. Additionally, some psychologists continue to believe and support the idea that art therapy may still have a positive impact upon treating less severe cases of mental health illness.

Organizations such as, the Ananda Marga Yoga & Meditation Center, are proactively taking treatment from the days of old to what they call “mindfulness-based psychotherapy.” The center showed its faith in the power of creative therapy and its commitment to advancement in treatment methodologies with the development of their meditation app, advertised as being an alternative not only to promote stress reduction but also to merge the lines between therapy and the technological craze of acquiring new gadgets. They are clear in stating, however, that their focus is upon the health and healing of the individual first.

While science has not yet found conclusive evidence for making the case that art is a self-help tool for psychotherapy, believers in its ability to reduce the struggle of dealing with emotional highs and lows stand strong in their faith and continue to produce and encourage participation in artistic mediums. Activities such as painting, dancing, writing, drawing, and any other form of creative expression are believed to improve the mood, cognitive brain function, and also to reduce feelings of depression.

by Bridgette Bryant

The British Medical Journal
San Jose Mercury News
Daily Collegian
The Atlantic

Photo by Dee Speed – Flickr License


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