Art Therapy and its Modern Approaches to Mental Health

Updated on August 17, 2022

Psychoanalysis and art therapy are different but similar methods for understanding an artist’s work. Psychoanalysis looks at the artwork from the perspective of the artist’s unconscious mind by analyzing the symbols and hidden meanings in the work. Art therapy, however, focuses on creating the artwork itself and how you can use that process to achieve therapeutic goals.

Despite their differences, both psychoanalysis and art therapy share a common goal: to help the artist understand and resolve their inner conflict and, in doing so, establish and find a more positive sense of self. Effective therapy for artists is now a blend of techniques and approaches custom fit to the patient.

In art therapy, this is done by using the artwork as a tool for exploring the artist’s emotions and thoughts. In psychoanalysis, the therapist works to interpret the artwork to understand the artist’s subconscious mind.

With the advent of modernism in the early 21st century, art therapy has taken a more holistic approach, incorporating techniques from multiple schools of thought to address the artist’s needs better. This shift from traditional psychoanalysis was partly due to the increased understanding of the importance of the creative process itself. 

It was also a response to the growing recognition of the limitations of psychoanalysis, which often ignored the client’s subjective experience. The results have been increasingly positive results in how to develop the emotional skill sets that allow creatives to cope with and manage everyday stress. 

Today, art therapists use a variety of approaches in their work, depending on the client’s needs. To find the right therapist, take your time and make sure their favored approach and specialty areas coincide with what will work best for you. 

4 popular approaches incorporated within therapy for artists

1. Humanistic Therapy

This approach emphasizes the individual’s unique experience, and the therapist’s role is to provide support and encouragement as the client explores their own emotions and thoughts. The art therapist may use paintings or other art forms to help the client express themselves.

When using this approach, the therapist will often ask questions about the client’s artwork to help them explore their feelings and thoughts. For example, they may ask about the colors used, the subject matter, or the client’s process of creating the piece. This therapy is especially helpful for those struggling with self-esteem issues or feelings of isolation.

2. Psychodynamic Therapy

Regarding art therapy, psychodynamic therapy is one of the most commonly used approaches. Simply put, psychodynamic therapy is a way of understanding how the past affects the present. To blend art therapy with psychoanalysis, the therapist will often use art as a way to help the client explore their unconscious mind. 

The therapist may ask the client to create a piece of art that represents their conflict or to choose a work of art that they feel drawn to. The therapist will then help the client interpret their artwork’s meaning. Whenever possible, the therapist will also encourage the client to talk about their feelings and thoughts while working on the art piece.

3. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

This approach focuses on the here and now and is geared toward helping clients change their thoughts and behaviors. In cognitive-behavioral art therapy, the therapist often uses specific art assignments to help clients achieve their goals. Through exploring their thoughts and feelings about the artwork, the client will be able to identify negative patterns and start to make positive changes.

For example, when dealing with eating disorders, the therapist may ask the client to make a collage of their favorite foods. The therapist will help the client identify negative thoughts or beliefs about food during the session. The therapist may also ask the client to create a second collage representing a more positive relationship with food. This will help the client to become more aware of their eating habits and make healthier choices.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is often used in combination with other approaches, such as humanistic or psychodynamic therapy.

4. Solution-Focused Therapy

This approach is geared toward helping the client find solutions to their problems. In solution-focused art therapy, the therapist often uses art to help the client brainstorm solutions. The therapist may also ask the client to create a vision board, a collage of images representing the client’s goals. As the conversation progresses, the therapist will help the client identify any obstacles preventing them from achieving their goals. The therapist will then work with the client to develop a plan to overcome these obstacles.

Final thoughts…

Before the rise of modern psychology, many people believed that the only way to understand the human mind was through psychoanalysis. However, with the increasing understanding of the importance of the creative process, art therapy has become a popular way to help people heal.

Art therapy takes a modern approach to healing and is based on the belief that the creative process can be used to promote well-being. There are many different approaches to art therapy, each with its strengths and weaknesses. The most important thing is to find an approach that feels right for you. Art therapy may be a good option for you if you’re interested in exploring your feelings and thoughts.

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