By: Angelique Poisson, MFTi
Case Manager & Art Therapist
Resilience Treatment Center

Colored PencilsArt therapy provides a useful space to practice mindfulness. The therapeutic structure of art therapy encourages us to engage internal and external processes in the present moment. We can tap into our inner experience and emotions, connect with our body through a tactile process, and view the image that represents the process unfolding before our eyes. Creating art in this way fosters awareness and connection to the present moment.

The idea of present awareness is foundational to mindfulness. While the many benefits of mindfulness can be expanded far beyond the ideas presented here, the purpose of this article is to call attention to the unique ways we can access mindfulness through therapeutic art making.

While mindfulness grew out of Buddhist meditation, it has been popularized in our contemporary Western society as both an art and science. Mindfulness is a state of being that involves awareness of the present, acceptance, non-judgment, and non-reactivity. Accessing this state can benefit our physiological, psychological and social experiences.

Mindfulness may be a common buzzword in the psychotherapy space, but for good reason. It has become a focus of highly effective treatment modalities such as dialectical behavioral therapy. Additionally, studies have shown that, “mindfulness may be an effective way to mitigate the factors contributing to suicidal behavior.”[1] Mindfulness can help suppress symptoms of depression and aid recovery by supporting equanimity and disidentification with negative thoughts.

While the benefits of mindfulness are profound, for some it can be difficult to maintain a state of mental awareness and non-judgment while struggling with racing anxious thoughts. Art therapy can be a useful aid to practice all components of mindfulness as it utilizes a tactile process in addition to the cognitive skills needed for skills work and traditional meditation.

Awareness of the Present Creating therapeutic art engages our mind with the present task before us. Whether we are creating a specific product or just playing with art media, we are actualizing a process in the present moment.

Acceptance In art therapy, the focus lies in the process of creating artwork. The ability to let go of expectations while staying with an often challenging process builds self-esteem and fosters acceptance.

Non-judgment and Non-reactivity Creating artwork can be intimidating! Many of us have experiences from childhood when our creations have been judged or scrutinized. When processing artwork in art therapy, it is important to honor the expression that we have created. Responses to the artwork are encouraged with descriptive words and resonance. Rather than reacting to the image with a judgment such as, “that’s such pretty tree,” art therapy dialogue may include, “this tree is full of leaves and has a thick sturdy trunk.” Instead of judging the product, art therapy encourages the viewer to respond and notice.

Participating in art therapy is a meaningful way to practice mindfulness. Creating therapeutic artwork can quiet the mind, reduce anxiety and depression, and leave behind a tangible process to observe and rework as time goes on.

Need some mindfulness in your life? Pick up a crayon, take a deep breath, and CREATE!

[1] Lucoma, J.; & Villatte, J. (2012). Mindfulness in the Treatment of Suicidal Individuals. Cogn Behav Pract. 19(2): 265–276. Published online 2011 Apr 15. doi: 10.1016/j.cbpra.2010.12.003