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Group of older adults painting while seated at a table

How Art Therapy Can Help You Heal

Learn how one free OhioHealth service works to help individuals find their voice through art

What if you could help benefit your healing process through drawing or painting? Though the medium can change, restorative expression is the basis of art therapy. According to the American Art Therapy Association, art therapy is practiced in a wide variety of settings, including hospitals, psychiatric and rehabilitation facilities, wellness centers, forensic institutions, schools, crisis centers, senior communities, private practice, and other clinical and community settings.

Jennifer McHale, M.S., ATR, Cancer Education Wellness, says her role as an art therapist is to provide a safe and therapeutic environment where an individual can relax and feel safe to engage in the art process without feeling judged or intimidated. Art therapy is offered in several services areas of OhioHealth.

McHale says one misconception about art therapy is that it’s just “arts and crafts,” rather than a therapeutic service.

“It is important that individuals interested in participating in art therapy know that an art therapist is a trained health care provider who has studied on a graduate level to understand how to provide psychotherapeutic services,” she says. While art making can be a fun and enjoyable activity, art therapy is intended to be more than just making something pretty.

“Often art doesn’t have to be beautiful or something that is intended to hang up on a wall. Art can tell a story, express negative feelings, communicate both fears and dreams.”

According to McHale, the therapeutic technique is rooted in the idea that creative expression can foster healing and mental well-being. “It is based on the belief that the creative process involved in artistic self-expression helps people to resolve conflicts and problems, develop interpersonal skills, manage behavior, reduce stress, increase self-esteem and self-awareness, and achieve insight.”

Art therapy can be used to treat a wide range of mental disorders and psychological distress and can benefit many different people, including:

  • Children with learning disabilities
  • Adults experiencing severe stress
  • Children suffering from behavioral or social problems at school or home
  • Those experiencing mental health problems (e.g., anxiety, depression)
  • Individuals suffering from a chronic or serious medical condition (e.g., cancer, brain injury, or other chronic physically challenging illnesses)
  • Children or adults who have experienced a traumatic event

Another misconception about art therapy is that you have to be an artist or have artistic experience to benefit. McHale says most people who try the activity have minimal or no artistic training.

“It is the job of the art therapist to select art mediums and art experiences that are therapeutic in nature, and not intimidating or overwhelming. Each situation is unique, and the approach is individualized based on the client’s needs,” she explains.

It can take a few sessions for an individual to begin seeing the value of how art making can help address their worries and concerns, McHale says. Ultimately, art therapy can provide “healing” by becoming a vehicle of communication for the individual.

“The artistic expressions created provide a voice for the individual. Often, it is easier to talk about one’s art than it is to talk about oneself. Ultimately, one’s art expression is an extension of themselves.”

Art therapy services are offered free of charge in several areas of OhioHealth. To join an art therapy group for cancer patients and their caregivers, call CancerCall at (614) 566-4321. For individuals who have experienced a brain injury or other neurological condition, contact The Dempsey Family Education and Resource Center at (614) 788-6115.

The Bing Cancer Center also offers an art studio on its first floor with materials available Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.