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Art therapy for depression: Myth or Truth?

Art therapy for depression

Art therapy for depression

Updated on July 30, 2021

Does art therapy for depression work? Is it a myth or a truth? Let’s find out.

For a long time now, healing through art has been recognized by artists all around the world. However, recently art therapy for depression is gaining recognition as well. Since art therapy has the potential of creating new modes and avenues for expressing oneself, it can provide invaluable benefits to people who are suffering from severe depressive episodes. Recently, there has been mounting evidence pointing towards a positive outcome in art therapy for depression.

Even though artists of all genres have recognized and appreciated the healing process of art, only in the past few decades has art been able to enter into psychotherapy. With art therapy emerging as a legitimate field of therapy, people suffering from depression have been provided a new avenue of recovery, opening up new possibilities for healing.

 

A BRIEF HISTORY OF ART THERAPY PART I

How does art therapy for depression works?

Work on self-expression

Depression is a very deep disorienting, painful as well as isolating experience. It robs the person of the capacity to feel happy. Furthermore, it silences the sufferer and causes the person to lose the ability to voice out the suffering. People suffering from depression are not able to communicate their problems and pain in a healthy manner. Thus, depression turns into destruction and destroys one’s sense of self, emotions as well as functionality.

Art therapy for depression can be an opportunity for such people to push against the walls by immersing themselves into the process of creation. Researchers have shown that creating or making art can have a very positive impact on a person’s psychological as well as physical well-being. Patients have reported, that while they are making art, they end up talking to the therapist about their problems. Somehow, making art makes the process of communication much easier.

UNDERSTANDING THE HISTORY OF ART THERAPY PART II

Art therapy for depression provides a non verbal communication mode

Art therapy for depression also allows for non verbal communication. In case the person is not willing to talk or is finding it very difficult to express their feelings in words, art therapy for depression can help understand and resolve the inner conflicts of the person. Art therapists are trained to understand the strokes of art instead of the finished product.
With the process of spontaneous or guided artistic production, people are able to experience profound benefits which is not often available in the other therapeutic modalities. They are able to find a way of expression which does not necessarily involve verbal communication. For people who suffer from depression, it is very difficult to talk about the problems to someone who is a complete stranger to them. Mostly these people have taught themselves to force their emotions behind, put on a blank face and show the world that everything is all right. However, art therapy for depression provides them a non-verbal mode of communication.

Explore thoughts and emotions

Art therapy for depression can help people fully explore their emotions, thoughts and address their mental health problems in a positive and safe manner. Art therapy further allows a person to achieve a sense of self-sufficiency, break through the dysfunctional thought patterns which have led to depression and gain a sense of independence. It also helps develop coping mechanisms, strengthen problem-solving skills and increase the empathetic ability of a person.

Allows future visualization

Art therapy for depression allows art therapist to shift the vision of their patients to the future from the direct distress. For some patients, this is an indication that the problem will not last forever. In case of other patients, art therapy allows them to understand their future goals and take actions to reaching them as well. Some patients also realize and understand their hopelessness regarding the future.
The therapist will enquire the patient, “what do you expect to be in 5 or 10 years from now? What would you’re like be like when you’re depression leaves?” They give the patients assignments to fill which involves formation of college boards or vision boards. Working on these assignments gives the patient a hope for the future and makes them realize what they may have forgotten in their  current pain.

Reinforce positive actions and coping skills in patients

The process of breaking an set is a coping skill in itself. Art therapy in depression can be practiced during the session with the therapist or at home. This is a great way to distract oneself from negative thoughts, provide a safe outlet for the feelings and enjoy at the same time.

Notice thinking patterns

When a person creates an artwork, they are plagued with different emotions. Art therapy in depression satins at understanding and helping the person cope with these emotions, especially if these emotions belong to the negative category. The therapist helps the patient explore the feelings that’s they are going through like perfectionism, wanting to just give up and self criticism.
Such thoughts not only pup up during the process of making art. For a person suffering from depression, these thoughts can pop up at random times and cause distress. Art therapy focuses on practicing helpful thoughts like self expect acceptance, embracing ones and imperfection, feeling compassionate towards self and approaching life with a little more playful nature.
Art therapy focuses on practicing helpful thoughts like self acceptance, embracing ones imperfection, feeling compassionate towards self and approaching life with more playful nature. To enable the patient reinforce a specific thought, The therapist will ask the patient to make an art which specifies or shows that thought.

Strengthen relationships and connection

This is perhaps the most important aspect of art therapy for depression. The relationship between the patient and therapist is of at most importance in healing. To help the patient strengthen their connection and support out of the therapy room, The therapist will ask the patient to draw their support system or draw the people who always support them. This makes the patient realize that they are not alone, they have a support system and people whom they can depend on in their time of need.

Focus on highlighting the positives

Art therapy in depression is used to map the positive things the individual has done in his or her life. Like things which were done well this week, for example: a painting, a sculpture or a collage.  The person can even map out his or her strengths like gratitude, things the person has accomplished so far, happy memories.

No need of direct art

To benefit from art therapy for depression, their is no need for the patient to actually engage in painting or drawing type of art. Art can be used in many forms like crafting etc. as long as it helps your patient feel that their mind is in their control. This helps the client build self esteem, find meaning of their life, be hopeful for the future, reduce the stress levels and finally connect with joy.

Research proof supporting art therapy for depression

A study published in 2015 examined the impact of art therapy on anxiety, distress, trauma, depression, low self-esteem and finally the inability to cope. As per the researchers, patients who were receiving art therapy for depression showed improvement in case of 14 out of 15 randomized controlled trials. A few of the studies have also indicated that art therapy turned out to be a more effective treatment than the control groups who were not receiving art therapy. The participants who took part in art therapy made less phone calls to their mental health and medical care providers, had reduced numbers of somatic symptoms and complaints and reduced utilization of mental and medical health services.

How is art therapy integrated into the treatment of depression?

Art therapy for depression is not a stand-alone treatment. It is normally incorporated within a range of therapeutic interventions which enables the psychologist to create a comprehensive treatment experience for people suffering from depression.

How does art therapy for depression work?

As per research, when a person sees something which he or she believes is soothing, beautiful and pleasing, the neurotransmitter dopamine which is located in one of the pleasure regions of the brain gets released. Thus, when people create art, the release of dopamine causes an increase in the positive feelings and allows the person to feel happy.

In the field of art therapy for depression, therapists are performing what is normally considered as the hardest of tasks by traditional psychoanalysts. They are getting the people who are suffering from depression to proactively express their symptoms through art allowing them to manage and overcome the same. This leads to the end result being a person who feels positive, has a higher self-esteem and sees the world as a beautiful place

ART THERAPY FOR WAR VETERANS

Conclusion:

What are your thoughts on art therapy for depression? Have you used art therapy for treating depression  disorders?  Do you have any specific art therapy interventions which are your favorite? I’d love to know what you think so put down your thoughts  in the comment section. If you have any specific query pertaining to this post or any other post on this blog, mention them in the comment section or reach out to me on any of my social media channels. I’d be happy to help you out.
See you in my next blog post 
Shruti

Frequently asked questions

Is art therapy for depression a good option?
Art helps a person manage their behavior, process their inner feelings, reduce stress and anxiety and finally enhance their self confidence. Such practices cumulatively help a person get rid of depression.
How does art therapy help with mental health?
Art therapy can help people regain lost confidence, rekindle the hope of a better future and finally give them the capacity to believe in themselves. Art therapy can help people gain back control of their lives which most people suffering from mental health issues feel they have lost.
Are their any art based assessments to understand if a person is suffering from depression?
Their are specific form of drawings which help a therapist understand and access depression of the patient. These are:
  • The Don Jones assessment
  • Draw a person picking apple from tree
  • Draw a person in the rain

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