The Science behind Art Therapy

For more information please take a look at these research articles that demonstrate how art therapy* can be used as an important tool in enhancing the patient experience and allowing for a smoother emotional recovery. 

*Disclaimer: Although we are NOT licensed art therapists, we seek to promote the use of art as a means of encouraging healing and aiding the recovery process in senior homes and hospitals through youth led workshops. However we are more than happy to partner with art therapists and for more information please contact us.


Art Therapy, Trauma, and Neuroscience: Theoretical and Practical Perspectives

King, Juliet L; King, Juliet L, London: Routledge, 2016, ISBN: 1138839353

Art Therapy, Trauma, and Neuroscience combines theory, research, and practice with traumatized populations in a neuroscience framework. Recognizing the importance of understanding both art therapy and trauma studies as brain-based interventions, some of the most renowned figures in art therapy and trauma use translational and integrative neuroscience to provide theoretical and applied techniques. Therapists will come away from this book with tools for a refined understanding of brain-based interventions in a dynamic yet accessible format.


Approaches to Research in Art Therapy Using Imaging Technologies

King, Juliet L ; Kaimal, Girija, Frontiers in human neuroscience, 2019, Vol.13, p.159-159; Switzerland: Frontiers Research Foundation

The American Art Therapy Association (2019) defines art therapy as an integrative mental health and human services profession that enriches the lives of individuals, families, and communities through active art making, creative process/theory, applied psychological theory, and human development within a psychotherapeutic relationship. A key consideration in assessing brain function in the context of art therapy is the ability to track human functioning in natural ways, as action is involved in art making and movement is an integral part of the process. Utilizing these modalities can expand the knowledge base related to the observation that movement directly impacts emotional regulation (Shafir, 2016). […]there might be opportunities to investigate the complicated aspects of psychotherapeutic assessment and intervention including eye and head movements that occur during the creative process. […]although not mobile, positron emission tomography and functional magnetic resonance imaging studies could examine structural as well as functional outcomes of art therapy.


Creative Arts Interventions to Address Depression in Older Adults: A Systematic Review of Outcomes, Processes, and Mechanisms

Dunphy, Kim ; Baker, Felicity A ; Dumaresq, Ella ; Carroll-Haskins, Katrina ; Eickholt, Jasmin ; Ercole, Maya ; Kaimal, Girija ; Meyer, Kirsten ; Sajnani, Nisha ; Shamir, Opher Y ; Wosch, Thomas

Frontiers in psychology, 2018, Vol.9, p.2655-2655; Switzerland: Frontiers Research Foundation

Depression experienced by older adults is proving an increasing global health burden, with rates generally 7% and as high as 27% in the USA. This is likely to significantly increase in coming years as the number and proportion of older adults in the population rises all around the world. Therefore, it is imperative that the effectiveness of approaches to the prevention and treatment of depression are understood. Creative arts interventions, including art, dance movement, drama, and music modalities, are utilized internationally to target depression and depressive symptoms in older adults. This includes interventions led by trained arts therapists as well as other health and arts professionals. However, to date there has not been a systematic review that reports effects and examines the processes (why) and mechanisms (how) of creative arts interventions are used to address depression in this older age group. This systematic review of studies on creative arts interventions for older adults experiencing depression examined: outcomes of four creative arts modalities (art, dance movement, drama, and music); with particular attention paid to processes documented as contributing to change in each modality; and mechanisms considered to result from these processes. Our analysis of 75 articles (17 art, 13 dance, 4 drama, and 41 music) indicates mostly significant quantitative or positive qualitative findings, particularly for interventions led by creative arts therapists. Mechanisms of change gleaned from the studies that were common across modalities include physical (e.g., increased muscle strength; neurochemical effects, such as endorphin release), intra-personal (e.g., enhanced self-concept, strengthened agency and mastery; processing and communication of emotions), cultural (e.g., creative expression, aesthetic pleasure), cognitive (e.g., stimulation of memory), and social (e.g., increased social skills and connection), that were all considered to contribute to reduced depression and symptoms. Recommendations for future research includes stronger focus on testing of processes and mechanisms.


The Connection Between Art, Healing, and Public Health: A Review of Current Literature

Stuckey, Heather L ; Nobel, Jeremy, American journal of public health (1971), 2010-02-01, Vol.100 (2), p.254-263; Washington, DC: Am Public Health Assoc

This review explores the relationship between engagement with the creative arts and health outcomes, specifically the health effects of music engagement, visual arts therapy, movement-based creative expression, and expressive writing. Although there is evidence that art-based interventions are effective in reducing adverse physiological and psychological outcomes, the extent to which these interventions enhance health status is largely unknown. Our hope is to establish a foundation for continued investigation into this subject and to generate further interest in researching the complexities of engagement with the arts and health.


Arts in health: the value of evaluation

Staricoff, Rosalia Lelchuk, The journal of the Royal Society for the Promotion of Health, 2006-05, Vol.126 (3), p.116-120; Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications

This article aims to discuss a number of different approaches to the evaluation of the value of implementing arts projects and arts programmes, presenting the evidence of their impact when implemented either in community settings or within a healthcare environment. It focuses on the evidence provided by quantitative research and also discusses the merits of applying qualitative research, outlining their different approach of collecting, interpreting and analysing the data. A brief consideration is also given to the arguments underpinning the introduction of humanities and arts in medical and nursing education and training, an approach that promotes personal development and, most importantly, encourages the health practitioner to become more humane, understanding and sympathetic in their everyday practice. It also renders them more amenable to the introduction of art in the healthcare environment. The article concludes that the value of evaluating the effect of the arts in healthcare resides in providing to all involved in designing, implementation and funding, the knowledge of what, when and how to introduce different art forms to achieve the most effective results. Evaluations produce evidence of the impact of different art forms in encouraging beneficial clinical outcomes in patients, in enhancing the quality of healthcare services and in improving working conditions and job satisfaction.


Art therapy is associated with sustained improvement in cognitive function in the elderly with mild neurocognitive disorder: findings from a pilot randomized controlled trial for art therapy and music reminiscence activity versus usual care

Mahendran, Rathi ; Gandhi, Mihir ; Moorakonda, Rajesh Babu ; Wong, Jonathan ; Kanchi, Madhu Mathi ; Fam, Johnson ; Rawtaer, Iris ; Kumar, Alan Prem ; Feng, Lei ; Kua, Ee Heok, Trials, 2018-11-09, Vol.19 (1), p.615-615; England: BioMed Central Ltd

Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is a phase in cognitive decline when it is still possible to intervene to reverse the decline. Cognitive stimulation delivered through psychosocial interventions provides both psychological intervention and social stimulation to improve cognition. A pilot open-label parallel-arms randomized controlled trial was undertaken to examine the effects of art therapy (AT) and music reminiscence activity (MRA) compared to the control, on the primary outcome of neurocognitive domain assessments in elderly people with MCI. Community-living elderly people with MCI (Petersen’s criteria), assessed for study eligibility, were randomized using a web-based system with equal allocation to two intervention arms: AT (guided viewing of art pieces and production of visual arts) and MRA (listening, and recalling memories related to music) and a control arm (standard care without any intervention). Interventions were led by trained therapists weekly for 3 months, then fortnightly for 6 months. Neurocognitive domains (mean of memory, attention, and visuo-spatial abilities standardized scores), psychological wellbeing (subsyndromal depression and anxiety) and telomere length as a biological marker of cellular ageing, were assessed by intervention-blinded assessors at baseline, 3 months and 9 months. In total, 250 people were screened and 68 were randomized and included in the analysis. In the AT arm, neurocognitive domains improved compared to the control arm at 3 months (mean difference (d) = 0.40; 90% CI 0.126, 0.679) and were sustained at 9 months (d = 0.31; 90% CI 0.068, 0.548). There was some improvement in depression and anxiety at 3 and 9 months and in telomere length at 9 months, but this was not significant. Similar improvements were observed in the MRA arm over the control arm, but they were not significant. There were no intervention-related adverse effects. Art therapy delivered by trained staff as “art as therapy” and “art psychotherapy” may have been the significant contributor to cognitive improvements. The findings support cognitive stimulation for elderly people with cognitive decline and signal the need for larger studies and further investigation of carefully designed psycho-social interventions for this group.


The Effect of Art Therapy on Cognitive Performance of Hispanic/Latino Older Adults

Alders, Amanda ; Levine-Madori, Linda, Art therapy, 2010-01-01, Vol.27 (3), p.127-135; Routledge

This article presents the results of a pilot study investigating the efficacy of art therapy to enhance cognitive performance in a sample of 24 elderly Hispanic/Latino members of a community center who participated in a weekly structured thematic therapeutic arts program. A 12-week, quasiexperimental, pretest/posttest, nonrandomized, controlled design evaluated outcomes using the Clock Drawing Test (CDT) and the Cognitive Failures Questionnaire (CFQ). Participants who attended the art therapy sessions outperformed those who did not on both cognitive evaluation tests. The findings suggest that the combination of self-initiated art making with art therapy session attendance may be most beneficial for enhancing a person’s perception of cognitive ability, which in turn may positively affect overall cognitive performance.