Art therapy may sound a little bizarre, but it is actually a longstanding clinical approach which combines psychology and the visual arts to help people improve their mental health.
It is particularly effective for those who struggle to articulate their emotions verbally. Indeed, as we all know, art can be an incredibly powerful form of expression.
During a session, the patient constructs a work of art and, crucially, it is the creative process itself which has been shown to help these individuals work through difficult emotions, reduce stress and achieve key insights.
How does it work?
The power of art therapy is rooted in our growing knowledge of the brain. More specifically, painting and other artistic techniques tap into certain neural pathways which may be less active in those suffering with mental health issues. For example, painting activates the limbic system, where emotional regulation takes place.
The power of art therapy is rooted in our growing knowledge of the brain.
How effective is it?
Although studies are generally small and sometimes inconclusive, there is some evidence of the benefits of art therapy. In one study in adults, art therapy was shown to reduce symptoms of trauma and depression. The same study found that art therapy helped those going through cancer improve their quality of life.
How can it be used for children with ADHD?
Art therapy can be extremely effective when it comes to dealing with your child’s ADHD for several reasons. Firstly, we know that children with ADHD struggle with controlled attention and sequencing. Given that, art projects, which require ordered steps and precision, are the perfect way for a child with ADHD to practice focus, working memory and attention.
What’s more, children with ADHD will often have difficulty with frustration tolerance. Making art is a fantastic way to develop mental flexibility, as children will invariably have to tolerate some disorder, such as colouring outside the lines or gluing a piece in the wrong spot.
Finally, children with ADHD might find it hard to express how they are feeling. This makes art therapy, which is a far less overwhelming experience than traditional talking therapy, a great option for many kids with ADHD.,
Regev D & Cohen-Yatziv L. (2018) Effectiveness of art therapy with adult clients in 2018—what progress has been made?. Front Psychol. 9:1531.