Art Therapy: Express Yourself Even When You Can’t Find the Words

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Art Therapy l McNulty Counseling and Wellness l St. Pete, FL
An adult survivor of child sexual abuse uses basic art materials (marker, ink pen, crayon) to express and process their thoughts and feelings.(Full consent received for actual portrayal.)

Different types of counseling work for different people. Some people are able to communicate their feelings and feel totally comfortable talking to a therapist to resolve their issues. Some don’t. For those who aren’t keen or comfortable speaking to a therapist directly, or would benefit from a creative therapy form, art therapy may be the route to take. Art therapy is a unique approach to depression treatment that helps you get in touch with your feelings and use creative expression as an outlet. This type of therapy can be used to identify and change the negative thoughts and emotions that are associated with depression. Adults, children and teens alike can use art therapy to heal and express their feelings.

The idea of using creative therapy to help express inner thoughts goes back quite some time, but it only became a recognized type of therapy in the United States about 50 years ago. In 1969, the American Art Therapy Association was established. Today, art therapists are trained in both art and therapy.

Art Therapy Counseling l McNulty Counseling and Wellness l St. Petersburg, FL
“Create an image of a behavior you’d like to change.” Through the creative process, this client engages in an inner dialogue to explore their habit of biting their lips and picking their cuticles. (Full consent was received for actual portrayal)

Types of Creative Therapy

Creative therapies may be conducted in individual, couples, family, or group settings. What the various types of creative therapy have in common is that they help you find ways to express yourself and learn more about yourself. When these activities are done under the guidance of a trained therapist, they can complement or enhance other depression treatments.

Healing arts include:

  • Art therapy, such as drawing, painting, and sculpting
  • Dance or movement therapy
  • Drama therapy, which uses storytelling, acting, and improvisation to encourage self-discovery and expression
  • Music therapy, which can be used passively to relieve anxiety and depression through listening or as an active and creative therapy by playing and writing music
Art Therapy l McNulty Counseling l St. Pete, FL
Using color, line, form, and texture to create an abstract image. This client portrays tension and negative emotion with the rough, spiky orange marks disrupting the harmony of the calmer, cooler colors and forms. The image represents their memory of an experience that had both positive and negative aspects. (Full consent was received for actual portrayal)

The Benefits of Art Therapy

Art therapy can be a healing force for the body and the mind in part because the creative process helps release brain chemicals that fight depression. Research shows that art therapy can also improve your sense of well-being by reducing depression and anxiety.

Here are some of the ways you might benefit from exploring art therapy:

  • Creating art gives you a product you can see and learn from.
  • Evaluating your art can help you pinpoint aspects of your life you may want to change.
  • Being able to express yourself without being judgmental can break through some of the negativity of depression.
  • Taking part in group therapy can help you connect with others.
  • Letting go of your emotions can create a sense of trust in yourself, your therapist, and the healing process.

How to Get Started

Even if you don’t peg yourself as a “creative” type of person, you can still benefit from creative therapies like art therapy. Understand the intention is not to create the Mona Lisa, but to visually respond to a prompt specifically selected by your art therapist to stimulate thought and processing. The most important thing to remember, though, is to not treat art therapy like a contest or a grade. You’re not going to be evaluated on how good your art is, even if it is amazing. You’ll be using the art to heal and express yourself.  

If this type of therapy interests you, there are many different ways you can get started. If you’re looking for clinical art therapy, you’ll do best in a structured setting, and you should talk to your doctor or the experts at McNulty Counseling and Wellness. If you’re looking to express yourself and release negative emotions, you could also practice art-making on your own, as the act of creating is intrinsically healing. However, it should be understood that creating emotionally charged artwork could bring up deeper issues and may require the facilitation of a professionally trained art therapist to help explore and resolve these issues.  For more information and to locate a credentialed art therapist near you, contact the Art Therapy Credentials Board.

Mental Health Therapist l McNulty Counseling l St. Petersburg, FL
Lindsey Brooks

About the Author

Lindsey Brooks is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor as well as a Registered, Board Certified Art Therapist specializing in children’s issues, teen and adult anxiety, and providing parenting support. She helps individuals and families improve their communication, to build trust in their relationships, and enhance emotional well being.  Lindsey partners with the charities Hands Across the Bay and the Children’s Cancer Center to provide counseling services to victims of domestic violence and families affected by pediatric cancer.  Understanding that words are often not enough, Lindsey offers Art Therapy as a primary or supplemental form of counseling to traditional talk therapy and believes in the inherently healing power of creating. Call today for a free consultation 727-344-9867!

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