By: Jessica Lynch, MAAT
Art Therapist & Case Manager
Resilience Treatment Center
Anxiety is one of the leading mental health problems in the United States and alternate modalities are needed to expand treatment options. Art therapy has been shown to be an effective modality for anxiety reduction (Chambala, 2008).
The definition and scope of art therapy encompasses many diverse aspects of theoretical applications, including the visual arts, human development, the creative process, and mental health (Malchoidi, 2012), that can be applied to a variety of populations including children, adolescents, adults and families (Malchoidi, 2007). Unlike other forms of counseling and psychotherapy where words are the dominant means for expressing and communicating the human experience (Edwards, 2004), art therapy is birthed from the concept that the image itself can help one to understand and express what words cannot (Malchoidi, 2007).
Approximately 18% or about 40 million American adults age 18 and older are affected by anxiety disorders yearly, making it the most common class of psychological disorders (Comer, 2010). The anatomy of anxiety is both a psychological and physical reaction to stress that arises within the amygdala, a region of the brain that governs emotional responses. Neurotransmitters are then carried to the sympathetic nervous system which puts the body on high alert, thus increasing heart and breathing rates as well as muscle tension (Sadock, 2007). As a result of the influx in pharmaceuticals within the United States, non-medical therapies are declining, therefore the importance of alternative treatments such as art therapy should be further explored for effectiveness (Serice & Vennet, 2012).
Art therapy and art making can be used as a form of stress reduction with a variety of populations, in different settings, while using countless techniques. Just the physical manipulation of art materials alone has been shown to reduce stress, and in a study conducted by Abbot et al. (2013), it was found that art making, art appreciation and the physical, kinesthetic manipulation of art materials were all successful and effective techniques for reducing stress. In addition, Abbot et al., (2013) found that art-making activities can lead to a cathartic release of positive emotion. Curry and Kasser (2005) also examined the effectiveness of different art activities in the reduction of anxiety by combining elements of art therapy and meditation. The findings of this quantitative study, hypothesized that undergraduate students who were given repetitive geometric patterns to color, induced a meditative state, that is beneficial to anxiety sufferers. The techniques and approaches to art making are vast but the best thing they have in common is the ability to have a positive effect on a human’s emotional well-being; requiring both a kinesthetic manipulation and expression of creativity, which are proven to be active coping skill for stress and anxiety reduction.
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