Art Therapy is a technique where a person’s spontaneous creation of art is used as a means of cathartic self-expression. Such expression and release of emotions improves the person’s sense of well-being.
Which “Art Creation” qualifies? Well, there are no hard and fast rules on this- it could be as simple as drawing or sketching ‘or’ as intricate and challenging as collage-making or sculpting.
Art Therapy was first used in the 1940s in England. The first practitioners and pioneers of this technique were Adrian Hill and Irene Champernowne. Adrian was an artist and Irene was a psychotherapist. While Adrian was recuperating at the hospital for tuberculosis; he used to paint and thus use his drawing as a means of recreation and catharsis. Upon noting these benefits, he started suggesting to other fellow-residents (patients) to take up drawing as a means of improving their sense of well-being. Several of these patients had witnessed the trying circumstances and goriness of World War II and they found much relief by expressing their anxieties and other psychological imbalances.
Irene on the other hand had studied psychotherapy under Carl Jung and found much interest in following Jung’s technique in using art to help patients express their repressed and/or unconscious feelings.
Even though there are several Art Therapy related professional associations and it is also taught as a formal curriculum in certain programs, it needs to be mentioned that the basic cathartic benefits and the sense of well-being which consequently develops from expressing hidden emotions coupled with the joy of creation are experienced by anyone using mere basic principles of this technique. Remember Hill’s suggestion to his fellow hospital residents- even simple drawing and/or painting can have a very beneficial effect. The main key element here is the spontaneous creation of art.
On a formal therapeutic note, Art Therapy can be used-
1] As a cathartic means of expressing emotions. The patient could safely express their hidden negative emotions, thus reducing tension, anxiety and/or any associated hostility.
2] The therapist could help the client interpret the drawing/paintings (art work) they have created and thus in this process helping the patients to better understand their own selves.
Such Art Therapy could be carried out as a group therapy or on a one to one basic. If in a group, the number of participants is usually limited to not more than eight to allow for extensive and meaningful interaction.
Art Therapy has been used to heal various psychological and mental conditions- ranging from anxiety and depression to eating disorders. It has been found to help people cope well with bereavement ‘or’ a sense of loss as well as for those who do typically have difficulty expressing themselves and their feelings. Art Therapy has also been prevalently used to help people overcome various addictions such as alcohol or drugs. It’s use is very well known in treating several mental illnesses including psychosis. Art Therapy helps in inducing in people a serene sense of self-worth, balance and well-being.