Art Therapy & Coping Skills

Instructor: Elisha Madison

Elisha is a writer, editor, and aspiring novelist. She has a Master's degree in Ancient Celtic History & Mythology and another Masters in Museum Studies.

Art therapy is a unique way for kids and adults to express feelings while they cope with mental illness or trauma. This lesson provides some ideas for doing art therapy exercises at home.

Art Therapy

Art therapy is a way for people to deal with the feelings and pain they have due to mental illness, trauma, physical illness, and disabilities in a healthy and expressive way. It is typically a combination of counseling and expression in art. Art therapy has become a key piece of therapy for many because it enables people to use, colors, movement, and other expressive techniques to show how they are feeling, and is especially useful for people who are struggling to find words for their feelings. Children in particular may benefit from art therapy because it can be hard for young children to articulate their trauma using language.

Painting is just one of several good media for art therapy.
Art Therapy

Although art therapy immediately brings to mind paintings, this is not the only type of art therapy available. Anything that involves the creation or performance of a type of art or craft can be helpful for expression and therapy. Examples include:

  • Dancing
  • Pottery
  • Sewing
  • Knitting
  • Writing
  • Singing
  • Playing an instrument
  • Drawing
  • Coloring

These are just a select few. Another therapeutic art practice could be making a puppet that acts out the creator's feelings or thoughts.

Art Therapy is Not Just For Artists

Art therapy it available to everyone, not just those who are already good at painting or other artistic pursuits. The goal is not to make masterpieces, but to find a way to express feelings that cannot easily be put into words. As you start experimenting with different types of art and you worry that your canvas is a mess, or your crocheting is in knots, remember that this is all part of the process. You are learning a new skill and at the same time finding ways to get through the difficulties you're experiencing.

Art Therapy to Express Anger and Sadness

Anger and sadness can turn into negative expressions of violence, self-harm, or withdrawing into oneself. It is important to find other ways to express these feelings.

  • Write a letter. Write a letter to yourself, to your body, or to another person using expressive words. The intent is not to send the letter, but to write it as if you would send it so that you can get your feelings down on paper and out of your head.
  • Paint your feelings. This painting exercise is not for the purpose of making representational pictures. Your painting doesn't need to look like anything in particular. Just paint as you feel, in the colors that mean the most to you. You can do this with paintbrushes or even your fingers.
  • Make clay masks. Create a clay mask that has a face to express how you feel. The movement of your hands melding the clay is calming, and the mask is a powerful symbol for the expression of feelings that are hard to talk about.

An example of an art therapy mask
Mask

Art Therapy for Calming

Art therapy serves other purposes beyond expressing feelings. It can also help calm and relax the creator during times of anxiety. The following are some activities for creating calm:

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