Whose mental health could use a little extra love right now? This weekend, we’ll be dabbling in some self care for the psyche, inspired by the awesomeness that is art therapy. Art therapy taps into creative expression to help folks process and explore psychological and emotional challenges, and to cultivate a sense of wellbeing. Whether we’re talking painting, drawing, interacting with an existing artwork, building, sculpting, or something else altogether, art therapy has been shown to improve cognition, alleviate anxiety, inspire insight, foster emotional resilience, self-awareness, and self-esteem, and reduce conflict—and you don’t need an ounce of artistic talent. Plus, because art therapy doesn’t rely on language, it can be a great compliment to the sort of talk therapy you might be more used to, and it’s often a good way to work out stuff you don’t quite have the words for.
This page takes a look at the history of art therapy, and what it is (and is not), offering some suggestions for kid or adult-oriented art therapeutic exercises and reading recs for those interested in learning more. There are tons of other art therapy-adjacent techniques worth looking into, too.
We’re certainly not art therapists ourselves, but below are a couple cool example exercises we’ve seen kicking around. With all of these, it’s key to take time to reflect before, during, and after the exercise, to scan your body, ask yourselves questions about why you’re drawn to particular colors, lines or materials, think about how the artmaking process feels, how you feel looking at the finished product, etc. And even if it turns out art therapy’s not your bag, there’s no harm in taking it for a spin! So go ahead and get arting:
Create a safe space | This can be a three-dimensional or two-dimensional activity. The goal is to visualize and build or otherwise create a space that feels safe, whatever that means to you—emotional safety, physical security, things that provide comfort. The safe space can be any size, a diorama, a cardboard box fort, a collection of objects, a drawing, etc. Ask yourself how it feels to make your safe space. Why are you drawn to certain materials, placements, light, colors, sensations? What does your safe space protect you from? Why does it make you feel safe?
Collage | Round up and reuse old magazines, newspapers, greeting cards, colored paper, photographs, textiles or any other cut-and-glue-able materials you like. Try starting out with a particular idea or feeling you want to express, explore or ease. Cut and glue to your heart’s content, checking in with yourself throughout the process, and again once you feel like you’ve finished.
Blind drawing | A great low-key activity and perfect reminder that you don’t need any art talent to benefit from art therapy. Find some paper (scratch paper or old newspaper work just fine) and as many writing/drawing implements as you like. Close your eyes or draw in the dark. Switch pens if you like. Draw with your non-dominant hand. Alternate your speed and style. Draw with your breath. Mix it up! And remember to take stock of your experience throughout. This is all about mindfulness and accepting what you cannot control.