Art As Therapy

A young person molds animal shapes with a mound of clay during a community art class targeting teens and children.
A young person molds animal shapes with a mound of clay during a community art class targeting teens and children.

Finger-painting, building castles in the backyard sandbox; playing dress-up with the neighbor’s kids next door; constructing your own town with hundreds of Legos; or even repeating the scrolling words on the TV from a Sing-A-Long song. These activities, although primarily employed by younger children, are some of the supposedly affective therapeutic activities that are utilized primarily during the early years of life. You probably participated in them many years ago because your parents or teacher encouraged you to do so—inevitably unaware of the deeper purpose behind that squishy mound of Play-Doh in your hands.
Why exactly do we, as nearly all races and societies of humanity, employ such tactics as the aforementioned? For one, water-coloring and molding various shapes perceived within the child’s outer world actually allows the child’s brain to develop many synaptic connections pertaining to creativity and arts—connections that are made while pretending to be a princess from Sleeping Beauty or by forming a face out of separate clay pieces. These links are essentially vital to the child’s later educational endeavors, such as learning how to read or computing solutions to basic math problems.

Even though these childhood activities may seem immature for an adult to practice, they are not. In fact, researchers have recently concluded that elementary-level creative projects, like finger-painting or sketching shapes, may actually help improve the subject’s feelings of depression or negativity in certain circumstances. Currently, most health care officials and doctors refer to this very real, and cognitively directed method of healing, simply as “Art Therapy.”

According to the American Art Therapy Association’s website, “Art therapy is a mental health profession that uses the creative process of art making to improve and enhance the physical, mental and emotional well-being of individuals of all ages…It is based on the belief that the creative process involved in artistic self-expression helps people to resolve conflicts and problems, develop interpersonal skills, manage behavior, reduce stress, increase self-esteem and self-awareness, and achieve insight.” Individuals who are legally certified to teach and apply this therapy have been trained extensively in many different art modalities, including drawing, painting, carving and sculpting.

Most noteworthy out of all the information on this artistic practice, though, are the numerous success stories of patients who’ve participated in the therapy—ranging from drug and alcohol addicts, to victims of domestic abuse, to youths inflicted with neurological disorders.

Who knew that the power of art could possibly cure the sickly and warm the hearts of the downtrodden?