Art as therapy uses the creative process, art media and the visual arts within a therapeutic relationship or setting to improve the psychosocial, physical, cognitive and spiritual health of individuals. It’s based on emerging research that art making is, in and of itself, therapeutic and that the creative process is a health-enhancing experience.

Research Spotlight

The databases often return hundreds of medical studies for a single wellness approach. This section summarizes a sampling of five studies – providing just a taste of the available research. These Spotlights were not selected because they are the most favorable or the most recent, but to provide you an introduction to the more extensive research you’ll uncover searching the four databases found in the “Research” section of this site.

  • Arts Therapy Reduces Anxiety, Stress & Mood Disturbances
    A 2012 meta-review from Penn State and Harvard researchers, examining studies on the health effects of music therapy, visual arts therapy, movement-based creative expression and expressive writing, found clear indications that creative engagement and arts therapy can decrease anxiety, stress and mood disturbances.
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  • Art Therapy Improved Depression & Anxiety for Elderly with Depressive Disorder
    A 2018 randomized controlled trial from the Universidade Federal de São Paulo found that 20 weeks of art therapy sessions had a significant impact on depression and anxiety scores for elderly women with Major Depressive Disorder–and is effective as an adjunctive treatment.
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  • Arts Therapies Reduce Anxiety, Depression & Pain Symptoms for Cancer Patients
    A University of York meta-review of 27 randomized controlled trials (1,576 patients) concluded that creative arts therapies could reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression and pain, and improve quality of life, for patients with cancer, after treatment, but less so at follow-up.
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  • Creative Life Associated with Significantly Decreased Mortality Risk
    A Purdue and Boston Universities study (2012), analyzing data on 1,000 older men, found that only creativity–not intelligence or overall openness (cognitive flexibility)–decreased mortality risk. Individuals that practice creativity maintain the integrity of their neural networks into old age and the study suggested that practicing creative-thinking techniques could improve anyone’s health by lowering stress and exercising the brain.
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  • Creative Arts Therapy: Significant Impact on Depression & Quality of Life for Stroke Patients
    A 2016 Mahidol University (Thailand) randomized controlled trial examining the efficacy of creative art therapy plus conventional physical therapy, compared with physical therapy (PT) only, for 118 stroke patients, found that those that did PT with twice-a-week creative arts therapy had significantly better scores for depression, physical function and quality of life–compared with PT alone.
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