Art Therapy to Treat Depression

Depression can make everyday duties seem overwhelming. Taking responsibility for one’s job or household responsibilities may feel draining. Medications are used by many to get past these feelings of apathy and tiredness. In many instances, talk therapy helps the depressed person to hear for themselves what is going on in their heart or mind. Quite often, learning how to recognize thought patterns and how to adjust them can be a significant part of beating the giant of depression. There is also another treatment, one which has been around for nearly 50 years, which also helps patients to combat depression through self-discovery; art therapy.

Art therapy, like talk therapy, is a means of connecting with emotions only instead of words, creative expression becomes the outlet. Art forms most often used by therapists include: painting, drawing, sculpting, dance, drama/storytelling and music. These therapies can occur one on one or in family or group settings. Individual art therapy can be helpful in building trust in oneself or between the individual and the therapist. The ability to create something that is not criticized yet which reveals inner feelings is empowering. On the other hand, group art therapy sessions tend to promote positive connections with other people – something which plays a key role in overcoming depression.

However the therapy is employed, patients find that art allows them to express thoughts and feelings which may actually be roadblocks to progress in traditional therapy sessions. That is because some emotions can feel too painful to verbalize. Or, if the patient-therapist relationship is new, the telling of such hidden feelings may not feel quite safe. In either case, art allows a way for the person to give expression where words are not perceived to be an option. In this sense, art therapy is not intended to replace other traditional treatments, but works very well as a complement to other therapies.

In short, by creating a work of art, a person is given a means of externalizing powerful emotions that have been internalized. The person is left with a tangible form of what was an unspoken inner burden. Many patients report feeling as though an inner weight has been lifted just by putting their feelings into clay or onto a canvas. This may sound as though art therapy is only a means of expunging negative feelings, but that is only half of its benefit. Art therapy can actually be part of building positive feelings too.

Tests have proven that creative expression releases dopamine, a chemical associated with the brain’s pleasure or reward center. So dancing, painting, or playing an instrument stimulates the very chemicals which boost a person’s feeling of well-being, reduces his/her anxiety and effectively works to combat depression. This is what depression medications are designed to do. However, patients looking to augment talk therapy or reduce the amount of medication they are taking may want to consider looking into art therapy as a way to fight their current depression.

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