How is Art Therapy Used for Mental Health

Art therapy is a controversial mental health practice. It has as many proponents as it does opponents, since the interpretation of art (both created by the patient and viewed by the patient) is so very subjective.

Art therapists are trained to interpret drawings, sculptures, paintings and symbols, looking for signs of mental health or challenges in their patients. This is because many people who have endured mental stress may be unable to express their problems or traumas in words, but may be willing to show their anguish in art. Children in particular are known for drawing pictures that express the fears, anxieties, difficulties and challenges they face, which psychologists use as clues as they attempt to help the child.

The problem with this type of therapy is the fact that these interpretations are indeed subjective. One therapist may interpret a sculpture as indicating symptoms of sexual abuse, while another therapist may interpret the sculpture as a sign of victorious breakthroughs. The possibilities for interpretation are endless, and although art therapy specialists are trained formally with standards, no one can prove the reliability of those standards. Does a certain symbol always represent a certain emotion? Does that particular color always indicate a particular experience?

Art Therapy for the Brain
Another form of art therapy is much less controversial. That is the use of expressive art therapy to reconnect neuromuscular connections that may have grown weak or been severed. Elderly people may find that manipulating clay, wielding a paintbrush or even taking photographs fires off neurons that have been atrophying, renewing those vital connections. Creative activity also stimulates connections in the brain, improving memory and increasing coherency.

Art Therapy for the Soul
Another way we see art in therapy is in a form of venting through art. This is when a patient is asked to express his or her feelings through creative art. The art is not used for interpretation, but simply as a way to express and process an emotion or experience. This methodology is embraced since many patients discover great relief after engaging in an act of creativity.

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There's no reason too small to consider working with a therapist, but be sure to do some research to find a good therapist who's trained in the type of therapy best suited for your issues and remember that you're in control: if you don't benefit from your intial session, stop and choose another therapist.

If you are worried about choosing the right mental health therapist, take the time to find someone who is right for you.

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