The creation of art has been a healing technique for millennia, evidence of which can be found in many cultures and traditions all over the world. But only recently, in the 1940s, did art and healthcare combine in a formal therapeutic setting to become known as art therapy, per the Art Therapy Credentials Board (ATCB).
Today, under the guidance of a licensed, board-certified practitioner, creating various forms of visual art, from sculpture to painting and even scribbling, may provide powerful healing benefits for some folks.
“The art activity itself [can be] therapeutic, [in that it potentially] relieves tension, relaxes people, and distracts people from pain,” says Judith Rubin, PhD, a licensed counselor and board-certified art therapist, and licensed psychologist and faculty member of the University of Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh Psychoanalytic Society and Institute in Pennsylvania. It may also help people process past traumas or sift through challenging emotions and feelings, and possibly help treat certain health concerns, she adds.
While more scientific studies are needed to better understand how art therapy may impact mental and physical health, per a recent review, there’s growing interest in its possible efficacy for a broad spectrum of health conditions.
For example, organizations like NeuroArts Blueprint (a group of neuroscientists and arts practitioners, in collaboration with Johns Hopkins University and the Aspen Institute) aim to address research gaps and expand neuro-arts education for providers, among other initiatives, per its recent progress report.
Susan Magsamen, NeuroArts Blueprint codirector and executive director at the International Arts and Mind Lab at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, says the organization hopes to substantiate what we already inherently know: Humans are wired to create, and making art may make us feel good.
Keep in mind, more research is needed as most current studies include small population sizes, making it difficult to draw conclusions for larger groups. That said, here are some possible health and wellness perks the emerging, evolving field of art therapy may provide.