The Who, What, Where, When and Sometimes, Why.

Art therapy

Paint brushes and supplies

What is it?

Art therapy is a practice that allows patients to express inner thoughts and feelings without speaking. Art therapy uses different forms of art, including drawing, painting, clay, and sculpture. Art therapy is thought to lift one’s mood, boost self-awareness, and improve self-esteem. It also allows for the use of the eyes and hands, and improves eye-hand coordination while stimulating the nerves that affect communication between the hands and the brain.

People use art therapy for abuse recovery, anorexia, anxiety, autism, body image problems, breast cancer, bulimia, improving recovery from domestic, child, or sexual abuse, trauma, learning problems, depression, kidney disease, weakness in the elderly, AIDS/HIV, mental disorders characterized by emotional problems, marriage therapy, obesity, preventing preterm labor, sex therapy, stroke, substance abuse, anxiety before surgery, improving recovery after surgery, and tuberculosis.

Art therapy has also been used to improve quality of life, depression, stress, Alzheimer’s disease, inability to control bowel movements (encopresis), mental well-being, leukemia, speech sound disorders, schizophrenia, sickle cell disease, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Natural Medicines rates effectiveness based on scientific evidence according to the following scale: Effective, Likely Effective, Possibly Effective, Possibly Ineffective, Likely Ineffective, Ineffective, and Insufficient Evidence to Rate.

The effectiveness ratings for Art Therapy are as follows:

Insufficient Evidence to Rate Effectiveness for…

  • Depression. Some research shows that art therapy might help adolescents who are depressed and suicidal develop a sense of identity and optimism about the future. Art therapy might also improve relaxation, willingness to communicate, and shorten hospital stays.
  • Inability to control bowel movements (encopresis). Early research suggests that clay modeling therapy might improve constipation and the ability to control bowel movements in children with psychiatric disorders.
  • Psychological well-being. Early research suggests that art therapy combined with behavior therapy might help reduce symptoms of distress and improve general health in people experiencing grief.
  • Quality of life. Research suggests that using visual art therapy and pictures might improve quality of life in the elderly by increasing well-being, happiness, peacefulness, satisfaction, and calmness.
  • Stress. Some evidence suggests that a creative expression program involving art therapy might help reduce emotional and behavioral problems, increase self-esteem, and improve social life in immigrants and refugees who are stressed about life changes. Early research also suggests that art therapy reduces stress, increases positive emotions, and increases positive communication in family caregivers of cancer patients. Art therapy might also reduce stress in bone marrow transplant patients.
  • Schizophrenia. Early research suggests that art therapy might help people with schizophrenia communicate and stick to treatment. Other early research shows that art therapy combined with regular psychiatric treatment might improve short term functioning in people with psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia.
  • Sickle cell disease. Early research shows that art therapy improves coping and reduces hospital visits for children with sickle cell disease.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Early research suggests that art therapy might not benefit children with PTSD.
  • Anorexia.
  • Anxiety.
  • Autism.
  • Breast cancer.
  • Bulimia.
  • Trauma.
  • Learning problems.
  • Kidney disease.
  • Weakness in the elderly.
  • Mental disorders characterized by emotional problems.
  • Obesity.
  • Preventing preterm labor.
  • Stroke.
  • Substance abuse.
  • Anxiety before surgery.
  • Improving recovery after surgery.
  • Tuberculosis.
  • Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Leukemia.
  • Other conditions.

More evidence is needed to rate the effectiveness of art therapy for these uses.

Art therapy uses self-expression to provide physical and mental benefits. It is based on the principle that creative self-expression is healing and life-enhancing. Therapists might gain additional insight about their patients by using art therapy rather than only speaking.

People who support art therapy claim that children respond very well to art therapy. Drawing, painting and constructing with an art therapist might help children communicate difficult issues, calm emotions, and reduce stress.

Creating and discussing art with an art therapist can increase self-awareness and help to cope with symptoms, stress, and trauma, and improve mental abilities while enjoying the pleasures of art and creativity.

Self-expression is considered an important part of psychotherapy with children, adolescents, and their families. Art therapy is believed to help people organize their inner reactions to events in their lives. This helps them to understand and express their feelings more clearly.

Research shows that emotional expression has positive benefits for the immune, nervous, and cardiovascular systems. The mental and physical benefits of art therapy might improve quality of life and various illnesses.

It isn’t known if art therapy is safe. However, there’s no reason to suspect safety issues when used correctly.

Special Precautions & Warnings:

Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Not enough is known about the use of art therapy during pregnancy and breast-feeding. However, there’s no reason to suspect safety concerns when used correctly.

It is not known if this treatment interacts with any medicines.

Before using this treatment, talk with your health professional if you take any medications.

There are no known interactions with herbs and supplements.

There are no known interactions with foods.

Art Stimulation, Creative Arts Intervention, Creative Expression.


Natural Medicines disclaims any responsibility related to medical consequences of using any medical product. Effort is made to ensure that the information contained in this monograph is accurate at the time it was published. Consumers and medical professionals who consult this monograph are cautioned that any medical or product related decision is the sole responsibility of the consumer and/or the health care professional. A legal License Agreement sets limitations on downloading, storing, or printing content from this Database. Except for any possible exceptions written into your License Agreement, no reproduction of this monograph or any content from this Database is permitted without written permission from the publisher. Unlawful to download, store, or distribute content from this site.

For the latest comprehensive data on this and every other natural medicine, health professionals should consult the Professional Version of the Natural Medicines. It is fully referenced and updated daily.

© Copyright 1995-2019. Therapeutic Research Faculty, publishers of Natural Medicines, Prescriber’s Letter, and Pharmacist’s Letter. All rights reserved.
PH (209) 472-2244



Discover the different ways you can help

Get Involved


1-877 GO KOMEN

In Your Own Words

Give hope to others in your situation

Share Your Story or Read Others