What is Painting Therapy?

What is Painting Therapy?

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and should not be taken as medical advice.

According to a new national survey by the American Psychological Association(APA), the worldwide outbreak of the covid-19 pandemic and other social problems have severely affected people's mental health. People are under more stress in life and at work than ever before. The stress and trauma of the pandemic are having a lasting effect on people. In addition to providing much-needed financial assistance, education, and job opportunities, it is essential to consider how people can relieve their stress and adjust their mental state in the face of this unprecedented uncertainty.

Many applied studies worldwide on painting as art therapy in recent years. For example, painting therapy can help people deal with emotional and trauma issues, improve self-image, self-esteem, or self-concept in people with psychological disorders and social skills, promote language development and improve cognitive function.

In the following, we will present some cases for summary and analysis, introduce the possible principles behind them, and help you relieve stress and boost your mental health.

Effectiveness of Drawing Psychotherapy in Dealing With Emotional Disorders

Many studies have shown that because the right hemisphere of the human brain controls both emotions and art (painting, music, etc.), there are good results when using painting psychotherapy to deal with emotional conflicts, trauma, and other psychological problems. In contrast, the left hemisphere, associated with language or speech functions, has a limited role.

In 1996, Reese[1] reported on a study made by drawing psychotherapy to express emotional conflict. He used drawing psychotherapy with 16 children aged 5-12 years with emotional and behavioral disturbances and explored the characteristics and mechanisms of drawing therapy as a form of emotional expression. Before his work, Carolan[2] studied the use of drawing to express self-image in five adolescents with emotional disturbances and found that drawing was beneficial in revealing adolescents' emotions and value judgments.

Painting Can Heal Traumatic Emotional Experiences.

Sing[3] studied the role of drawing in trauma healing. He allows children who have experienced domestic violence to express and communicate their emotions and traumas through painting, achieving recovery. Logies[4], on the other hand, applied drawing to encourage children to release the traumatic emotions caused by their parents' divorce and to guide them to better focus on their cognitive and social development. Backos[5] applied drawing psychotherapy to better deal with the traumatic experience of raped women, resulting in increased self-satisfaction with their bodies. Williams and Taylor[6] implemented a pictorial psychological intervention with female prison inmates who had been physically and sexually assaulted and found that the intervention boosted their self-esteem and self-confidence, changed their attitudes toward life, and increased creativity.

Drawing Also Has a Vital Role in Psychological Interventions for Bereavement.

Mcintyre[7] implemented drawing interventions with children aged 9-12 years who had lost a loved one. He found that without intervention, guilt and loneliness can be devastating to children throughout their lives, and that drawing psychotherapy provided a counterbalance to the loss of a loved one. Cameron[8] and Gallagher[9] conducted a psychological intervention of drawing with older adults to help them alleviate their feelings of despair due to persistent illness and impending death, enabling them to accept the loss in their lives with peace.

The Role of Painting Therapy in Promoting Self-improvement and Social Skills

Painting therapy can deal with people's emotional and traumatic problems and improve the self-image, self-esteem or self-concept, and social skills of people with psychological disorders[10].

Conn[11] applied painting therapy to a 20-year-old youth with symptoms of depression, suicidal and bulimic behavior, encouraging the patient to look at himself, promote his emotional growth through self-exploration, and cope positively with his problems, leading to a change in his self-image. Likewise, Pagon[12] applied drawing therapy to help hospitalized adolescents deal with their internal conflicts, correct their distorted sense of self, and promote sameness formation.

Keve[13] used a spontaneous drawing creation method to intervene with children facing family and developmental problems and found that drawing therapy relieved stress from family and society, expressed anxiety, and thus strengthened one's self-concept. Rabin[14] implemented painting therapy in three women with appetite deficiency disorder and three with obesity, resulting in a significant improvement in self-concept in five cases. Strazisar[15] implemented individual and group drawing therapy for children with learning disabilities and found that children in the intervention developed social skills and improved self-esteem through interaction with peers. Conway[16], on the other hand, implemented drawing therapy with homeless women and found that drawing promoted self-esteem and self-awareness.

Sylwester[17] found a physiological basis for the idea that drawing can promote increased self-esteem. He discovered that fluctuating amounts of neurotransmitter complex amines in the brain influenced movement quality and self-esteem levels. High levels are associated with self-affirmation and motor control, and low levels can lead to anger and impulsive behavior. Human life depends on movement, and effective graceful movement produces satisfaction. Art provides the training to produce just such skillful movements, and the demonstration of these movements leads to positive feedback among people, thus strengthening self-esteem.

Painting Can Improve Social Skills.

Kanareff[18] conducted 38 biweekly drawing psychological interventions, which improved the social skills of 4 children with autism. Hammond[19] ran drawing therapy with two students with emotion management problems, which ultimately enhanced their self-awareness, improved their emotion management skills and socialization skills, and gained long-lasting friendships and social support as a result. Larew[20] intervened in the social skills of older adults through 18 group drawing sessions and found that artistic materials and programs stimulated the socialization process of older adults.

In addition to contributing to self-esteem and social skills, drawing can also promote language development and improved cognitive functioning through the creative process. Many studies worldwide have proven the connection between drawing activity and language. Experts have found that drawing is a complex activity involving several brain areas working in concert. In the drawing, the left hemisphere governs the details of the object, while the right hemisphere controls the depiction of the outline (Gardner 1982). Those individuals with damage in the right hemisphere tend to ignore the left side of the page and, at best, can only draw partially intact detail. Individuals with injury in the hemisphere, on the other hand, draw objects with good outlines but no fine detail. Brain scientist Frith[21] and artist Law collaborated to explore the brain mechanisms underlying the action of drawing. They used positron emission tomography to record brain activity while subjects drew shapes in space. The results showed that drawing activated brain regions associated with object recognition (related to language) and brain regions related to object position (affecting hand dexterity). They conclude that even the simplest drawing relies on complex interactions between multiple brain systems.

In terms of drawing for language development, Eubanks[22] argues that art is a visual language that helps school children develop verbal language. He states that "drawing puts students' thoughts into visual form, and students seek new vocabulary related to emotions while drawing" and that "art can be set directly at the heart of learning from the marginal curriculum, especially for those who have difficulty acquiring language. "

Mechanism of Action and Advantages of Painting Therapy

The British Association of Art Therapists has defined painting therapy more comprehensively: painting therapy involves a process of interaction between the creator, the work, and the therapist, in which the therapist provides the creative environment and artistic media for the patient. This process aims to develop symbolic language, touch on feelings unknown to the person, and creatively integrate them into the personality until therapeutic change occurs. The therapist's focus is not on the aesthetic properties but on the therapeutic process, i.e., the patient's process of empathy, perception, and the possibility of sharing this process with the therapist.

Research has shown that people can use painting therapy regardless of their drawing skills to deal with emotional conflicts and trauma and even assist with severe psychological disorders such as schizophrenia. Even highly experienced speech therapists do not take the effectiveness of drawing in dealing with emotional distress lightly.

Robin[23], a drawing psychotherapist, has provided a more comprehensive analysis of the mechanisms of action of drawing therapy. He argues that most of people's thinking is visual; memories may be pre-verbal or confined, and people's traumatic experiences, for example, maybe repressed and not extracted in words, making them difficult to treat. There are also many emotional experiences whose content is pre-verbal and cannot be described by people's words, making them untreatable. For example, people often feel that words pale when describing their true feelings. It is easier for people to express the dark side through art. Art itself is symbolic and value-neutral, and patients are free to express their desires and problems; this expression is covert and free of scruples such as social and moral standards. The painting therapy process consists of two parallel processes: psychotherapy and creation. In addition to psychotherapy, the creative process provides patients with a new way of looking at the problems they face. For example, art can help a person restore a broken heart when the individual is powerless to change in the face of hurt.

Benefits of Painting Therapy

Advantages of painting therapy:

  • Art offers the possibility of unique expression. It is possible to represent events that occurred in different places and times on a single work or series of works, and it is possible to synthesize irreconcilable emotions together.
  • Painting therapy is flexible and multifaceted. People can implement painting therapy in different locations, and it is suitable for patients of different ages and with various illnesses.
  • Painting therapy can normalize psychotherapy, i.e., it can be carried out in all daily life situations of people. Artistic methods such as painting can safely release destructive forces and uplift the mind.
  • Drawing can enhance communication and expression and provide a sense of fun, control, and accomplishment, the process of drawing also contributes to improving mental illness.
  • The interaction between drawing and therapy can assess the therapeutic process, clarify the inner dynamics of personality, and expose hidden conflicts.
  • Drawing catalyzes spontaneity in children and helps adolescents move away from personal developmental hurdles.
  • The work and process of drawing provide a sense of growth and accomplishment, thus enhancing personal satisfaction and self-worth.
  • Drawing can also help adults identify recurring themes in their behavior and focus on the most salient issues," etc.

Gerald et al[24]. argue that drawing is the most appropriate way for people to express their minds. People use drawing to vent feelings of aggression and hostility. For children and adults with intense emotions that are difficult to control, no better alternative strategy than drawing has been found.

In summary, painting therapy is particularly suitable for the following people:

  • Patients who cannot speak or do not want to speak, such as autism, deafness, retardation, brain damage, delusions
  • People or situations that are resistant to speech therapy, such as those who are resistant to talk therapy and have had no success with other methods
  • People who doubt their ability to speak, and people afraid that the therapist will "play with their psychology."

What Art Therapy Can Help With

Some of the psychological problems that can be dealt with through painting therapy include:

  • Psychosocial issues
  • Stress
  • Aging-related issues
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Emotional difficulties
  • Family or relationship problems
  • Eating disorders (e.g., loss of appetite, bulimia, binge eating)
  • Substance abuse (e.g., alcoholism, drug abuse)
  • Victims of sexual abuse
  • Schizoid personality disorder
  • Schizophrenia, etc.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Psychological symptoms associated with other medical issues
  • Medical conditions
  • Cancer

Of course, through the continuous exploration of drawing therapists, the objects and scope of drawing psychotherapy will continue to expand.

In summary, painting is the most appropriate way for people to express their minds. People can use painting to present their experiences and feelings, symbolically or concretely, in pictures as a kind of statement, review, and organization. At the same time, in the process of free expression, it is also a kind of catharsis and achievement[24].


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  2. Carolan R. The Effects of Using Self-created Images on the Quantity and Level of Self-disclosure in Adolescents. San Francisco: University of San Francisco 1992: 112 — 9
  3. Singh A. Art Therapy and Children: A Case Study on Domestic Violence. Canada: Concordia University 2001: 50 — 66
  4. Loges NB. Mending Hearts: Art Therapy Used in a Public School to Reduce Risk in Children of Divorce. USA: Ursuline College 2000: 44 — 9
  5. Backos AK. Self-portraits with Rape Survivors in Feminist-rogerian Art Therapy. USA: Ursuline College 1997: 35 — 40
  6. Williams R, Taylor JY. Narrative art and incarcerated abused women. Art Educ 2004; 57(2): 46 — 52
  7. Mcintyre BB. The Use of Art Therapy with Bereaved Children. USA: The Union for experimenting Colleges and Universities 1987: 327 — 30
  8. Cameron J. On the Meaning of Growing Old: Art Therapy with a Group of Institutionalized Elders. Canada: Concordia University 1996: 48 — 59
  9. Gallagher SM. Celebration of Women' s Lives: Geriatric Art Therapy as Life Review. USA: Ursuline College 1993: 391 — 401
  10. Jun Yan, Yuhua Cui. An attempt at group painting therapy[J].
  11. Conn SE. Art Therapy as a Psychiatric Counseling Modality in the Treatment of the Hospitalized Bulimic. USA: Ursuline College 1991: 405 — 9
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  15. Strazisar KC. A Comparison of Individual vs Group Art Therapy for a Student Diagnosed with Attention-deficit Attention-deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. USA: Ursuline College 1994: 551 — 4
  16. Conway N. A Spiritual Transformations: An Art Therapy Program Design Utilizing twelve Step and Rogerian Principles. USA: Ursuline College 1999: 45 — 61
  17. Sylwester R. The neurobiology of self-esteem and aggression. Educ Leadership 1997; 54(5): 75 —9
  18. Kanareff RL. Utilizing Group Art Therapy to Enhance the Social Skills of Children With Autism and Down Syndrome. USA: Ursuline College 2013: 180 — 99
  19. Hammond MS. The Benefits of Expressive Art Therapy with Socially Outcast, Potentially Violent Adolescents. USA: Ursuline College 2001: 67 — 70
  20. Larew HC. Group Art Therapy Used to Increase Socialization Skills Among Older Adults with Mental Retardation. USA: Ursuline College 1997: 175 — 86 21 Frith C, Law J. Cognitive and physiological processes underlying drawing skills. Leonardo 1995; 28(3): 203 — 5
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