Psykopaint Blog

Art therapy

The Benefits of Art as Therapy – Part Three

Posted on June 6, 2012

During the last weeks we discovered the awesomeness of art therapy (part one) and explored a number of ways it can help you be a better you (part two). Or me. (I mean me be a better me, not YOU be a better ME!?). Some of you may still have reservations. And not the kind you make for a restaurant dinner. Let’s address some of those concerns…

But I suck at art. Does this matter??

Heck no! In fact sometimes not knowing a single thing about ‘creative technique’ can be a blessing in disguise. People who aren’t ‘trained’ tend to do things more spontaneously – without spending hours fussing over a simple brush stroke (like some artists do). Sometimes the best parts of a drawing or painting or song come from mistakes. The decision of going with the flow and allowing yourself to make mistakes is what can take you in fantastic new directions.

The point of using art as a means of therapy, is not about how great an artist you are or aren’t – it is about enjoyment and how that benefits you.

“The object isn’t to make art; it’s to be in that wonderful state which makes art inevitable” — Robert Henri


This quote by the 19th Century American Artist Robert Henri, does a wonderful job of summarising the whole point of using art as therapy. It alludes to the fact that the final result/finished product is not the most important aspect of being creative; rather that it is the feeling you get from doing it.

I’m not sceptical, but I’d like to see some fancy diagrams and proof.

Sure. Well let me begin by name-dropping some people with important letters after their name, and show you some scientific things that will otherwise convince you. ;)

Professor of Neurobiology and Neuroaesthetics, Semir Zeki, from University College London, has found that viewing art triggers a surge of Dopamine, the body’s natural feel-good neurotransmitter, into the orbito-frontal cortex of the brain, resulting in feelings of intense pleasure.

While inside an MRI scanner, Study subjects were shown images of art on a screen – including works by Botticelli, Turner and Cézanne, and their brain activity was mapped.

“There have been very significant new advances in our understanding of what happens in our brains when we look at works of art,” explains Zeki. ‘We have recently found that when we look at things we consider to be beautiful, there is increased activity in the pleasure reward centres of the brain. Essentially, the feel-good centres are stimulated, similar to the states of love and desire.”

You can watch the video HERE

If that makes you scratch your head confusingly and ask “what the…?” then allow me to break it down for you. Essentially this study proves that looking at art stimulates the happy parts of your brain. See below.

If a person can get this excited merely ‘looking’ at art, imagine how AMAZING the act of ‘doing’ art can be?!

So what next?

So if you still have reservations (of the non-dining kind), it’s time to release yourself from holding back. The best way to do this? Dive in head first. Remember what it was like when you were a kid playing with things? Have fun. Try new things. Make it up as you go. Frolic with that same reckless abandon. Feel free to share your experiences in the comments. Don’t beat yourself up for not being perfect and finally, move from a state of fear to one of CREATIVITY and INSPIRATION!

If you’re an art therapist seeking tangible clinical research or a doubter wanting technical proof on the efficacy of Art Therapy, here is a link to a list of studies.
Also more recent studies for Alzheimer’s.
Cancer here  and here.
And Health & Depression here and here.


The Benefits of Art as Therapy – Part Two

Posted on May 29, 2012

Last week we considered a few ways in which art can be used as a means of therapy. To continue this little series on how chillaxing it can be to get down and dirty with creativity, let’s shuffle onto part two on the benefits of art therapy and how it can help you feel awesome.


There are many instances where drawing and painting has been used to help people. And not just to win games like Hangman, Pictionary or ‘Draw Something’! Lots of psychologists use art therapy to help their patients. When people have issues that they cannot easily put into words, painting or drawing is another way they can describe what they are feeling. Art therapy has been used to help victims of abuse to work through their experience. It has been used in hospitals as a means of helping cancer sufferers come to terms with their situation. Children are particularly receptive to this technique.

Other times something in someone’s life inspires them to find solace in art. James Castle was an outsider artist who was born deaf. Having never learned to read, write or sign, he expressed himself with art, and left over 20,000 pieces by the time of his death in 1977.

[I was going to insert a joke about how producing that many pieces of art is usually ‘unheard’ of, but that would be a terrible pun… ]

Untitled (Duck) by James Castle, Mixed Media


Studies show that art heals by changing a person’s physiology and attitude. When you are focused on something relaxing that also exercises your creative brain, you move into a more relaxed state. Hopefully not so relaxed that you wake up face down in a tin-full of paint, but you get my gist.

Self-taught artist Parker W. Lanier is a recovering alcoholic who uses art to come to terms with his alcoholism. His chosen medium is generally textas and markers. You can see some of his work here:

Art therapy is a body-mind therapy. It’s been used to help facilitate cancer recovery in a growing number of places worldwide. A study that was published in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Managementfound that art therapy can reduce a broad spectrum of symptoms related to pain and anxiety in cancer patients. After spending an hour on a personally chosen art project, participating cancer patients reported significant reductions in 8 of 9 symptoms measured by the Edmonton Symptom Assessment Scale (ESAS). They measured tiredness, nausea, depression, anxiety, drowsiness, lack of appetite, well-being and shortness of breath. These 8 symptoms improved; the only one that did not, was nausea. Which can be the result of medications anyway.

Dr. Jack Lindh of Umea University, Sweden, and colleagues in the European Journal of Cancer Care, concluded that their different study’s findings “strongly support art therapy as a powerful tool in rehabilitation of patients with breast cancer and, presumably, also in the care of patients with other types of cancer.” They say it was empowering “helping them to maintain a positive identity, to deal with pain, and to feel control over their lives.”

It’s use as a complementary therapy for cancer patients is growing. It has also been used to treat paediatric cancer patients and may be a good option for those who don’t respond well to the usual touch, talk therapies.


Yes, that is what I said. You won’t necessarily wake up feeling like Einstein the morning after you paint something (unless of course you’ve had far too much wine whilst doing so). But learning a new skill creates new neural pathways in your brain. If you practise being creative, it can equip you to come up with better solutions in life.

If it wasn’t for creative thinkers, we wouldn’t have most of the items we take for granted. Creative people are the ones who invent things! Planes, cars, light bulbs, telephones, the internet…and of course, software like PsykoPaint ;)


Whether you are aged 2 or 122, you can benefit from making art. However to be painting at 122, would make you extremely clever – since currently the oldest person in the world is 115…

For children especially, not only is it good for therapeutic reasons, but learning to manipulate a pen or paintbrush can increase hand-eye coordination skills. Of course you might beg to differ if you’ve ever caught your three-year old  red-handed with a permanent marker drawing on the bedroom wall / your carpet / their siblings.

Kid drawing on the family dog

If this is a problem for you, or you actually like the idea of drawing on walls to decorate a space – be it a child’s bedroom, the kitchen or an office , I actually came across a solution for this. It’s a special wall paint that gives you that luxury: IdeaPaint. It’s durable and you can actually apply it on any smooth surface – it doesn’t have to be just a wall. Once dried, that surface becomes just like a whiteboard. And when you don’t want it anymore you simply paint over it. Would be great even at youth centres, schools, in therapy centres or boardrooms for brainstorming ideas. Find out more about IdeaPaint here:


Famous artist Pablo Picasso said: “Art washes from the soul, the dust of everyday life.” Art can be used to enrich your life. To retell it. It’s just fun. It is so easy to get lost in doing creative things, that you lose all sense of time. If that happens, you’re doing it right.


Seriously, what other reason do you need??

*if you do need more convincing, then I guess you’ll have to wait until I twist your arm in part three…

The Benefits of Art as Therapy – Part One

Posted on May 22, 2012

I will start this post with a simple explanation about art therapy.

Soo…What is Art Therapy? Tell me more about this animal!

“Art Therapy” is the name given to a type of therapeutic practice that uses art (such as painting, drawing, dance or music) to help deal with emotions, work through personal issues or relieve stress. By using art and creativity as a form of therapy, the user is empowered.

This form of therapy is gaining popularity amongst medical clinicians due to its overwhelming success; however you don’t need to have any specific reason to reap the benefits of art therapy.

So how can I benefit from art therapy?

In case you need further convincing, allow me to list a few reasons of how making art can benefit you.


Artists are widely known for being more in touch with their emotions than most. They are often highly passionate people who speak regularly about how a mood can affect their art. One might reason that practising art would enable you to also overflow with creativity and productivity too.

When you tap into your inner self through creative art making, it can help you process emotions and feelings that you might not be otherwise able to express. You might even choose to paint the emotion you are feeling if you are having trouble with bottling things up.

Jackson Pollock was an abstract artist known for his unique technique of what could believably be interpreted as ‘an angry monkey randomly throwing lots of paint at huge canvases’ (though in fact it was intuitive and often carefully planned dripping of paint). In 1956 Time magazine named him “Jack the Dripper” for good reason.

Jackson Pollock in action by H. Namuth

Anyhoo, back to the point… Pollock, for all his genius and tempers, lead a troubled life and spent most of it as an alcoholic. He was married to another artist, and several of his doctors tried to engage him in art as part of his psychotherapy; before his untimely death at 44.


Looking back at history, there are many examples of how art has helped people cope with grief and inner turmoil. Some of the more famous people with mental illness were brilliant creatives. Beethoven suffered from bipolar disorder; his ‘manic’ episodes were apparently like a huge burst of ‘creativity on steroids’ where he wrote some of his finest emotionally charged pieces.

Pablo Picasso‘s “Blue Period” was a phase lasting from 1901 – 1904, where all his paintings featured a heavy blue tint and a sombre feel to them. It was spurred on by the loss of his friend who committed suicide not long before, and Picasso sank into a severe depression.
[I’m almost certain the reason he painted in blue was not from having the same paint supplier as Yves Klein, but history could be wrong ;) ]

Vincent van Gogh (the deceased Dutch Post-Impressionist artist who famously cut off his own ear), reportedly had both clinical depression and bipolar disorder. One of his most famous paintings “Starry Night” 1889, was inspired by the view from the window of his mental hospital in Saint-Rémy, France. Many art critics believe the sky is a reflection of his inner turmoil. (Otherwise he was painting this on a rollercoaster?)

“Starry Night” by Vincent van Gogh


Physiological changes occur when one is being creative, allowing stress to melt into deep relaxation. The effect of art and music can change a person’s brain wave pattern. You may recall being excited by a movie or feeling relaxed and enthused by a particular song, and how it made you feel.

Obviously the effects will be different if you listen to too much ‘angry music’ and watch too many horror films (unless you find being scared witless kind of relaxing). But hearing something soothing, or painting an image that has personal significance can actually put you into an almost meditative state. This in turn lessens anxiety, reduces your heart rate, and normalises your blood pressure.

It doesn’t mean you can throw away your gym membership or eBay the Stair-master just yet. However when the body is in this state, immune function improves, your mind clears and this increases your creativity. This frame of mind can be almost hypnotic.*

* [In which case you should watch this hypnotic spiral, get sleepy and be compelled to send us money + chocolate, or to cluck like a chicken]

PS: Remember to keep an eye out for our next post where we continue this exploration of awesomeness…

Enhanced by Zemanta