Art Therapy: The Fast-Track to Healing And Rehabilitation

Art therapy is among the most cutting-edge approaches to treating symptoms of mental health, including depression, anxiety and low self-esteem. For instance, a review of over 15 clinical studies found that art therapy has “statistically significant positive effects” in treating issues with mental health and self-esteem. Clinically speaking, art therapy is particularly valuable for vulnerable populations, such as disabled persons or young children, who may have trouble communicating their emotions with ease. Through artistic expression, individuals can safely encourage emotional healing from various forms of trauma in everyday life. To provide individuals with greater access to art therapy, it can also be conducted over telemedicine video.

Understanding Art Therapy

Art therapy differs from traditional therapy in its focus on expression. Often, experiences that are too painful to communicate directly are more readily communicated with drawing, painting or music. Art therapy is part of a broader set of approaches to mental health, including forms such as yoga therapy, mindfulness and meditative-healing, that many licensed counsellors obtain a speciality in to help their clients. However, unlike yoga and meditation, art therapy yields a series of drawings or visual creations that the patient and client can then discuss and interpret together. Many patients also report that art therapy helps them feel accomplished and creatively fulfilled as they watch their creative abilities deepen over time.

Self-Portrait Exercise

For individuals with body dysmorphia or low self esteem, one innovative artistic exercise is to create a self-portrait. Realistic or abstract, self-portraits can help us understand how we see our own reflections. Many art educators ask their clients to create a series of self-portraits: say, drawing a new representation each month, or several time a year, to track how self-representation changes over time. Logistically, self-portraits are a great exercise in learning to sketch the human face, one of art’s most basic, yet challenging endeavors in creating proportions. Other popular exercises for art therapists including drawing visual images that make the client happy (e.g., their favorite things) or aiming to represent their family members or close friends in a single unit.

Art Therapy for Children

Children with communication issues often yield stronger expression through their creative imaginations. Whether it’s done individually or as part of a larger group exercise, many arteducators seek to promote healing and emotional expression through tapping into children’s natural imaginative abilities. Art therapy is a less invasive approach for children reluctant to talk about their feelings. New research suggests that children develop more trust in their mental health professional when tasked with artistic exercises. Art therapy is also highly applicable to the everyday: like telehealth and telemedicine, art therapy makes therapeutic approaches more readily accessible to children in need of healing.

Digital Art Therapy and Virtual Art Therapy

Art therapy usually focuses on creative expression through traditional forms of image-making: painting, sculpture, drawing, etc. However, in this digital age of social media, ubiquitous smartphones, and the growing population of “digital natives”, it is nearly impossible to ignore the impact of digital media on culture, experiences and self expression.

The art world has embraced virtual reality, robotics, and AI as an intrinsic part of the art media “palette”. Software and equipment for creating digital art is now easily accessible. Apps such as iPad Photo Booth make it easy for even very young children to  manipulate, enhance, and animate images or to record and edit videos. Thus there is growing interest in understanding and exploring the use of digital art in therapy.

Virtual reality is a specific digital media that allows individuals to be more deeply immersed in and physically involved in art – both in its creation and experience. Virtual reality art therapy has been used with success for juvenile diversion and teen programs. It provides an additional dimension to art for healing, transformation, connection, and self growth.

In short, digital art therapy is fast growing area of art therapy with tremendous potential to provide meaningful self expression and therapy that meets the needs of more individuals. Indeed, digital art therapy is proving to be especially well-suited for autistic individuals.

Art Therapy and Telemedicine

Telemedicine uses digital technology to facilitate health-related visits over a distance, usually via video, text chat, and/or email. It may also provide file-transfer, screensharing, and virtual whiteboarding capabilities. Digital art is also created and consumed with digital technology–online tools, software, smartphones, computers, and digital devices. Telemedicine breaks down barriers of physical access whether for children living in rural areas or expats living overseas. Digital media breaks down barriers in communication and self-expression. It seems only natural that telemedicine would be well-suited for doing digital art therapy.

For example, one VSee telehealth user is a therapist who has clients play a soothing piece of animated digital art as part of her therapy session. It can also be possible to use telemedicine for more traditional art therapy sessions.  In either case, as these applications of communication, art, and therapy become more common, we can expect to see more digital art therapy being done over telemedicine.

Everyone heals differently, but art therapy is a safe, clinically-proven approach to overcome daily symptoms of mental illness. Through artistic expression, patients can express and acknowledge many of the issues that affect their everyday life, all while creating something tangible and meaningful as a visual representation of their healing.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash