Mental health: Art therapy

Artful expression can be relaxing and become a practice for many who are in the process of healing.

Art therapy involves the use of creative outlets such as drawing, painting, collage, coloring and other forms of creative expression to help children and adults alike to express their emotions, improve self-esteem, relieve stress, improve symptoms of anxiety and depression.

According to the American Art Therapy Association, art therapists are trained to understand the roles that color, texture and various art media can play in the therapeutic process and how these tools can help reveal one’s thoughts, feelings and psychological disposition. Art therapy integrates psychotherapy and some form of visual arts as a specific, stand-alone form of therapy, but it is also used in combination with other types of therapy.

At Denison, students create their own forms of art therapy to express their emotions. Art therapy can be practiced by the participant or with the accompaniment of a therapist. Olivia Durham ‘19, a studio art major from Denver, Colorado, shares her experiences with practicing self-imposed art therapy.

“I’ve truly been using art as therapy for as long as I can remember,” Durham said. “The majority of my practice revolves around mental illness and my experiences and struggles with it along with the process of healing and managing through art as therapy. Mental illness has been a constant in my life for as long as I can remember and I find purpose and peace through creating art. I rely on it greatly to regulate and guide my mental health and I regard mental illness in my art practice and in my life not as a handicap or disturbance, but as an inspiration.”

According to Psychology Today, an art therapist simply observes someone’s creative process as they work without interference or judgment. When they have finished a piece of artwork—and sometimes while they are still working on it—the therapist will ask the patient questions about how they felt during the process, what was easy and difficult and what thoughts or memories they might have had while they were working. This can be proven as effective for patients who are opening themselves up to a different process of coping in their day-to-day lives.

“I make sure to try to create something every day, whether it’s a little doodle or a large scale painting, because creativity is so instinctual not just for me personally but for everyone- creativity is a fundamental human necessity and routine that often gets brushed under the rug after middle school, or whenever art class stops being mandatory,” says Durham.

An organization called Active Minds strives to remove the stigma around mental health and bring more conversation about mental health to Denison’s campus. Sometime in the semester, Active Minds will be hosting an art therapy event. Contact Ruslana Kharevska ‘21 at kharev_r1@denison.edu for more information about the event and Active Minds.

Whether you are hoping to take a breather from the stress of college or want to express difficult feelings, art is the outlet that can inspire, be shared and most importantly, get your feelings out.