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How art therapy can promote positive mental health

December 30, 2014

When you think of therapy, you might imagine laying on a black couch where you talk to a stranger about your emotional and mental strain. Or perhaps you envision physical therapy - a room full of exercise balls and bands where you work to heal a bodily injury. However, several other types of therapy have proven to be as effective as these main practices. From animal therapy to music therapy, scientists and doctors have found many ways to quell the human psyche with therapeutic processes.

One particularly successful method of tending to a bevy of woes is art therapy, where people can communicate their hopes, feelings and fears without speaking a word.

Find a new source of happiness in art.

The science behind art therapy
Within each hemisphere of the brain, specific functions are controlled and maintained. The left side is known for controlling language skills, information analysis and memory formation and retention. Compared to these logic-based processes, the right hemisphere maintains spatial awareness and muscle memory. However, this side of your brain is also believed to be the source of your creativity, emotion and imagination. As a result, these intuitions are often accessible despite cognitive decline. When people begin struggling with their ability to use language, remember important information or make reasonable decisions, art may help them communicate more easily. Additionally, memories and emotions that haven't been experienced for a while can be stimulated by art because it calls for a different way of thinking.

How art therapy can make a difference
Art therapy has been deemed valuable for people coping with cancer, Alzheimer's disease, grief, depression, stress and more. Although art programs aren't exactly the same for everyone who's enduring the emotions, they can be tailored to specific people. If you find your loved one grows frustrated or loses interest in projects, suggest shorter or smaller tasks instead. People who are experiencing cognitive decline might struggle to remember the basic steps of painting a picture but can produce beautiful work if you simply dip and rinse the paintbrush for them.

"The benefits of art therapy are vast and apply to a range of difficulties and impairments."

The benefits of art therapy are vast and apply to a range of difficulties and impairments. A study from the National Institute of Psychosocial Factors and Health found increased satisfaction, calmness and happiness in participants who interacted with art, in addition to lower blood pressure.

Art therapy allows people to reclaim responsibility and control if they feel it's been lost. Since producing art is a creative and fluid activity, there isn't a specific way each project must be done. This allows people to use their skills in any way they wish, plus make their own decisions. Finally, completing an art project can promote self-esteem and pride, especially if someone hasn't been feeling productive.

A structured art therapy program is great way to encourage socialization for people who've become withdrawn or are struggling with the adjustment to a senior living community. Producing art together can be a social activity because the participants are sharing materials with one another and have the opportunity to present their work with the group at the end, which may foster new conversations and friendships.