Art Therapy: Art as Medicine

Art Therapy: Art as Medicine

Depression is a mental disorder that affects the way we feel, think, and act. It can become an obstacle in life becoming debilitating enough that individuals struggle just to get out of bed. There are many treatments for depression, from medication to psychotherapy. However, one type of sub-therapy is quickly gardening popularity. Art therapy is an expressive form of treatment that uses the creativity of making art to improve an individual’s well-being. It has been utilized as a unique approach to treat depression.

Art therapy isn’t a new thing, however. It became a recognized form of therapy in 1969 when the American Art Therapy Association was established. Creative art therapists are said to be trained in both art and therapy (Iliades). Under the supervision of a trained therapist, creative activities can complement or enhance other depression treatments.

Art therapy allows individuals to express and learn about themselves. It can be used to identify and change negative feelings associated with depression. It can be beneficial for individuals who may find it difficult to open up to strangers about their darkest emotions. Furthermore, people with depression may have adapted to suppress their emotions. In art therapy, words are not always required. Simple scribbles can express a depressive thought. Art therapy can provide support when words are not enough. In turn, it can also assist in coming to terms with a person’s underlying expressed feelings (Iliades).

Cancer patients have been found to be more vulnerable to depression. A study conducted in the Journal of Psychological, Social and Behavioral Dimensions of Cancer, found that anthroposophical art therapy provided a benefit treatment of cancer patients with depression or fatigue during chemotherapy treatment (Bar-Sela). Another study published in the Journal of Arts in Psychotherapy revealed the positive effects of art therapy for prison inmates. It demonstrated positive deviations in mood and locus of control for both male and females (Gussak).

There are several types of creative arts that include: Art therapy (drawing, painting, and sculpting), Dance or movement therapy, Drama therapy (acting, improv, and storytelling), and Music therapy (playing and writing music). The healing process that comes from these creative arts has shown to help the depressed individual by contributing to the release of brain chemicals that fight depression (Iliades). Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that aids in the feeling of pleasure when released. Another benefit of creative therapy is that it gives a product that an individual could learn from, while group therapy can support a connection with others. Creative art therapy is offered in many hospitals, outpatient centers, and private practices as a cooperative form of depression treatment. It allows you to express yourself, be creative, and explore your emotions. Most of all, it’s an excellent way to de-stress, and can be helpful to anyone!


Bar-Sela, G., Atid, L., Danos, S., Gabay, N. and Epelbaum, R. (2007), Art therapy improved depression and influenced fatigue levels in cancer patients on chemotherapy. Psycho-Oncology, 16: 980–984. doi:10.1002/pon.1175

Gussak, D. (2009). Comparing the effectiveness of art therapy on depression and locus of control of male and female inmates. The Arts In Psychotherapy, 36202-207. doi:10.1016/j.aip.2009.02.004

Iliades, C. (2012, Augst 30). The Healing Power of Creative Therapy for Depression. Retrieved from

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