Art Therapy Benefits Beyond Mental Health

Art Therapy Benefits Beyond Mental Health

Art therapy has typically been reserved for patients with mental disorders, but recent research shows art therapy benefits patients with neurological disorders as well.

Although contemporary art therapy is a fairly new practice, using art for therapeutic purposes was well known in ancient times. For example, philosophers in ancient Greece referred to the healing power of music with restoring the soul. Fast forward to the 1940′s, the therapeutic use of art was refined into a distinct discipline. Today, art therapy is most often used to treat a wide range of mental disorders in patients of all ages and settings from schools to hospitals to nursing homes. But, recent research has shown that art therapy benefits patients with neurological conditions as well.

What is Art Therapy?

The American Art Therapy Association (AATA) defines art therapy as “an integrative mental health profession that combines knowledge and understanding of human development and psychological theories and techniques with visual arts and the creative process to provide a unique approach for helping clients improve psychological, cognitive abilities, and sensory-motor functions.” Art as therapy can work on a person’s coordination, mental state, cognition, and senses.

Art Therapy Benefits Patients with Neurological Disorders

Dr. Bob Pascuzzi, chair of the neurology section at the Indiana University School of Medicine, has seen positive effects of art therapy in patients with complex neurological diagnoses like ALS and Parkinson’s. He, along with professor Juliet King, developed a unique art therapy program for treating neurological patients. This program, along with traditional therapy, aims at treating the emotions and thoughts of patients that are difficult to verbalize.

Art Therapy Benefits MS Patients

People with multiple sclerosis (MS) face a wide variety of physical, emotional, and social challenges. In a recent study, authors reviewed literature that suggested therapeutic art was of benefit to individuals with MS, particularly in promoting self-efficacy, emotional well-being, and motor control. The study highlighted the breadth of therapeutic art interventions. Combining art therapy, movement therapy, and dance therapy helped MS patients to regain and maintain their current level of function, cognition, and emotional health. And, these interventions are easily available to any patient, have no side effects, and can be modified based on individual need.

Art Therapy for Stress Relief

Interestingly, art therapy is not limited to patients suffering from mental health or neurological conditions. In fact, art has been found to be beneficial for healthcare personnel and other professionals who work in stressful environments. Research demonstrates that participating in activities such as coloring or sketching can be an effective outlet for fighting stress.

Who Can Provide Art Therapy?

Not every therapist can provide art therapy. After earning a master's degree and fulfilling post-graduate art therapy experience requirements, new therapists are eligible to earn a credential to become a registered art therapist (ATR), and are required to be certified by the Art Therapy Credentials Board (ATCB). What about you? Are you a registered art or play therapist? What are some of the art therapy benefits you have seen in your practice? Or, do you use art therapy yourself to cope with stress? If so, tell us about it in the comments section below.


    1. Gallagher, M., Bethous, F. Therapeutic use of the Arts for Patients with Multiple Sclerosis. US Neurology. 2017; 13 (2): 82-89.
    2. Denoon 2018, April 16. Patients and Healthcare Workers Benefit form Art Therapy. Retrieved from:
This article was written by Bijal Shah, Clinical Educator

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