Art therapy is “a distinct discipline that incorporates creative methods of expression through visual art media.” There are a few different forms of art therapy, but, overall, it works as a form of psychotherapy to encourage creative expression while promoting healing and wellbeing.
For many, creative therapies — which also include dance, music, or writing therapy — can help those suffering from mental health issues to express themselves without having to talk or use words. This covers a wide range of both mental and physical illnesses by helping to provide focus and even hope for the future.
The great thing about art therapy is that it can be facilitated in person, remotely, on a one-to-one basis, or in a group environment. This makes it flexible for those leading art workshops and easy for participants to access therapy.
With that in mind, let’s explore some art therapy group activities for adults.
1 What happens in art therapy?
2 Art therapy techniques and exercises for adults
3 Helpful art therapy activities for anxiety
3.1 Build a safe space
3.2 Create a collage of emotions
3.3 Draw in response to music
3.4 Zentangle® drawing
4 How to use essential oils alongside art therapy activities
4.1 How To Sell Out A Workshop Online In No Time
5.1 What can art therapy treat?
5.2 Who can benefit from art therapy?
5.3 How does art therapy help anxiety?
7 References and further reading
What happens in art therapy?
The specifics of each session are shaped by the various activities for art therapy that can be used. Generally speaking, the aim of a session is to help participants explore their emotions by giving them an outlet for self-expression. This can boost self-esteem and positivity, which can help to heal.
Art therapy doesn’t require any art skills or training for the participants. For those who run it, they generally need to have a master’s degree with 120 hours of supervised practice and 600 further hours of supervised art therapy internship.
The general structure of a one-to-one art therapy session includes:
- A client assessment
- Art making
- Post-art making
Group sessions can be held less formally, with a group assessment to start with, and then art-making to follow. However, it’s important to take into account the needs of each individual. Instead of asking them all to draw something similar with one art medium, try coming up with a theme or prompt and giving them the freedom to choose which medium they’d like to use.
We hope the following 12 interactive art therapy group activities for adults will give you a source of inspiration…
Art therapy techniques and exercises for adults
If you’re ready to start facilitating group sessions as an art therapist, the following ideas should give you a good starting point. Remember that you don’t just have to use one — a range of techniques can complement each other.
Some of your clients may feel more comfortable building or creating using clay, yarn, or Lego. Others might prefer drawing using markers, an ink pen, crayons, or paints.
The ideas below are all fun, easy-to-do, and will also encourage conversations between the group.
|Drawing in the dark||Lights off! The leader of the workshop tells a story for 5-12 minutes, and the participants are encouraged to draw what they can see or hear as the story is told. Once it’s finished, give everyone the opportunity to share the final product with the group.|
|Draw with your non-dominant hand||Drawing with the other hand helps encourage the brain to work in a different way. This can help bring out new ideas, thoughts, and emotions.|
|Emotions color wheel||Create a blank wheel with 6-10 feelings. Encourage participants to fill in each wheel with the colors, shapes, ideas, and objects that describe what they experience when they feel each of the positive and negative emotions.|
|Create mandalas||This can be done individually, or as a group with assigned sections for each person. Create a large circle (with room on the outside) and encourage everyone to draw, paint or color in their mandala.|
|Build a gratitude tree||Using a jar to hold the sticks in place, encourage each participant to add ‘leaves’ to their gratitude tree. These could be cut from magazines, drawn, painted, or written onto leaf-like pieces of paper.|
|Write a story||Writing a story is a well-researched area of emotional expression, and the benefits have been proven time and time again to help explore emotion and feelings through self-reflection. This might take the form of handwriting or an internet blog. Start with a theme, word, or phrase, and let the stories begin…|
|Carve soap||Starting with a piece of plain soap, allow your participants to carve into the piece to cut shapes or to craft a mini ‘sculpture’ such as a flower.|
|Self-portraits||In their chosen medium and format, ask your group members to create a self-portrait. This can be drawn onto a canvas, a piece of cardboard, a mask, or even created as puppets. This may help support self-esteem and body image.|
Helpful art therapy activities for anxiety
While art therapy supports recovery from many forms of mental and physical illness, anxiety and depression are often the common denominators. Below are a few art therapy ideas for anxiety, backed by psychologists.
Build a safe space
Encouraging your participants to build their own safe space is an important and eye-opening art therapy exercise. First, ask them to visualize a safe space. This might be an imaginary place or a mixture of places and objects that have made them feel safe previously. This can be built with a few easy resources such as magazines, glue sticks, and scissors!
Create a collage of emotions
Similar to the emotions color wheel above, a collage of emotions can help participants to better identify and understand their feelings. Themes could include family, emotions, identity, hopes, relationships, dreams, or the future.
Draw in response to music
Music can often be very emotive. While music therapy is its own entity, music can be used in art therapy to bring emotions to the forefront. It can be employed as a vehicle of self-expression on its own or when drawing, painting, or creating as part of art therapy. Ask your participants to draw while the music is playing, or have them sit and listen to a piece and then create something to represent the emotions they felt.
While the term Zentagle® is trademarked, this method has been proven to reduce stress and promote relaxation by allowing lines and shapes to simply emerge. The official Zentangle® method follows the following eight-step process:
- Gratitude and appreciation
- Corner dots
- Initial and sign
How to use essential oils alongside art therapy activities
Aromatherapy can create a calming atmosphere and promote relaxation. So, where appropriate, essential oils can be used to complement and enhance art therapy activities. Use a diffuser in the corner or the center of your space to diffuse and spread the scent throughout the room. Some essential oils are even thought to help reduce pain, promote mood and lessen anxiety.
How To Sell Out A Workshop Online In No Time
The five most common essential oils are:
Below, we’ve put together some of the most frequently asked questions (FAQs) about art therapy activities.
What can art therapy treat?
While it won’t necessarily treat or fix the root cause of the problem, art therapy can be used to help boost self-esteem, express emotions, and to help lessen the feelings of anxiety and depression.
Who can benefit from art therapy?
Art therapy is generally applicable to anyone who needs emotional support. It’s most commonly used for people who have:
- Chronic or life-limiting illnesses
- Mental health issues such as anxiety and depression
- Eating disorders
- Learning disabilities
How does art therapy help anxiety?
Art therapy can help anxiety by promoting calm and relaxation, giving an outlet for emotional expression, and helping to boost self-awareness and self-image. It works with other therapies such as CBT or medication to help soothe and lessen the symptoms experienced by those with anxiety – but is not a substitute for holistic treatment.
We hope that this article has given you some inspiration on art therapy group activities for adults. Many of these can be adapted for kids and teens, too.
Remember to take the needs of each individual into account, even during group art therapy activities. By providing various options for expression, the therapy can be made more individualistic and impactful — rather than if you encouraged everyone to simply paint using watercolors, for example. After the piece has been made, have a conversation about what the piece means, what’s reflected within it, and the author’s creative process. This can shed some light on their inner dialogue and point you to ways you can help them.
To give you the maximum amount of time to focus on the sessions and the needs of your patients and to promote your workshop, consider using a workshop booking software system. It will help you free up valuable time from managing clients, payments, and your calendar. With automated reminders, you will help your clients to remember their sessions to ensure they’re getting the maximum benefit from their therapy.
References and further reading
- Wikipedia: Art Therapy
- How To Sell Out A Workshop Online In No Time
- The 8 Best Tactics For Promoting A Workshop Like A Pro
- Creative Therapies Introduction
- The American Art Therapy Association
What can you do for art therapy? ›
Visual art therapy
For example, you might use pens, pencils, crayons, paint, chalk, clay or collaging. You might also use digital media, such as photos or video. You don't need to have any art skills or experience. With support from your therapist, you might use art materials to express your feelings or experiences.
Creative therapy is a type of therapy that uses non-verbal expression like art or music as a means to communicate our inner world. Finding clarity in your thoughts can often be difficult using words alone, so creative therapy can help you to communicate your inner experience and what you're feeling in other ways.What is expressive based art therapy? ›
What Is Expressive Arts Therapy? Expressive arts therapy is an integrative, multimodal approach that utilizes a variety of methods including writing, music, visual arts, drama, and dance to help people achieve personal growth.What can I draw to calm my anxiety? ›
In a 2020 study , researchers concluded that mandala drawing could reduce negative emotions and improve spirituality. And according to a small study in 2005, coloring a mandala was shown to reduce anxiety much more than coloring other designs or on a blank page.
Studies have shown that making art can help with relaxation and reduce cortisol levels. So, if someone has a difficult day and doodling helps them relax, they should by all means do some art on their own.What is the difference between art therapy and therapeutic art? ›
Perhaps one of the most common differences between the two is the overall goal, which is self expression. In other words, the main goal involving art therapy is to either communicate or express something, while the main goal involving therapeutic art-making is to either experiment or learn something.How long does art therapy take to be effective? ›
Research indicates that it takes between 8 to 15 weeks for art therapy to work on patients who are dealing with trauma. Art therapy results in a substantial reduction of trauma symptoms. It is also associated with a reduction in stress among clients with depression.How does art therapy affect the brain? ›
There is increasing evidence in rehabilitation medicine and the field of neuroscience that art enhances brain function by impacting brain wave patterns, emotions, and the nervous system. Art can also raise serotonin levels. These benefits don't just come from making art, they also occur by experiencing art.What activities are therapeutic? ›
Therapeutic Activities means restorative activities designed to maintain or improve the quality of one's life or delay deterioration of skills. Examples of therapeutic activities include gross motor activities, social activities, sensory enhancement activities, crafts, outdoor activities, spiritual activities and ADLs.What are the disadvantages of art therapy? ›
Potential negative effects include: Higher levels of stress or anxiety. Surfacing emotions without effectively processing them. Difficulty coping if therapy is abruptly terminated.
Can art therapy help with anxiety? ›
Art therapy works to heal anxiety through helping us feel a sense of calm, express ourselves, and become more self-aware. As part of a comprehensive treatment plan, art therapy may be a truly transformative treatment option for those who seek healing from anxiety disorders.What are the 5 modalities of art therapy? ›
Visual art, music, dance/movement, drama, and expressive writing are the primary expressive arts modalities used in counseling. The creative arts offer both the clinician and the client an opportunity to move beyond the expressive limits of talk therapy.What are expressive therapies 3 examples? ›
- Music therapy. This treatment involves playing, singing, listening, or moving to music. ...
- Art therapy. You use painting, drawing, sculpting, or another art form to process or express heavy thoughts and emotions. ...
- Dance therapy. ...
- Writing therapy.
Updated on 3/24/2022. Somatic counseling, also known as somatic experiencing therapy, is a type of therapy that helps treat post-traumatic stress and effects from other mental health conditions. This type of therapy connects a person's mind and body to apply psychotherapy and physical therapies during treatment.What is a great stress reliever? ›
Get active. Virtually any form of physical activity can act as a stress reliever. Even if you're not an athlete or you're out of shape, exercise can still be a good stress reliever. Physical activity can pump up your feel-good endorphins and other natural neural chemicals that enhance your sense of well-being.What is the main symptoms of anxiety? ›
- Feeling nervous, restless or tense.
- Having a sense of impending danger, panic or doom.
- Having an increased heart rate.
- Breathing rapidly (hyperventilation)
- Feeling weak or tired.
- Trouble concentrating or thinking about anything other than the present worry.
Studies suggest that art therapy can be very valuable in treating issues such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and even some phobias. It is a great way to express your emotions without words, process complex feelings and find relief.What happens in an art therapy session? ›
During the art-making, the art therapist can be there to just witness your process, or even collaborate or make art together. And the artmaking process can look very silent, or quite talkative, depending on the session. After the art-making, art therapy sessions often involve discussion and verbal processing.What undergraduate degree is best for art therapy? ›
Students looking to enter an arts therapy master's program should first take an undergraduate degree in fine arts, psychology, social work, or counselling.What should I draw ideas? ›
- Draw an object and give it a face.
- Create an alternate cover to your favorite book or album.
- Illustrate a scene from your favorite song.
- Draw a scene or character from your favorite book.
- Illustrate your favorite fairy-tale.
- Invent your own insects.
- Draw an intricate made up flower.
Why do therapists make you draw? ›
Drawing can make it easier to express something that is difficult to talk about such as a traumatic experience. An image or metaphor can create distance when words feel too hard.What are the best things to draw? ›
- Cartoon characters.
- 3D forms.
You'll need to complete a postgraduate qualification approved by the Health and Care Professions Council. Full time postgraduate courses normally take 2 years to complete. Part time courses take 3 years. You should have a degree in art or creative therapies to do a postgraduate course.What does drawings of eyes mean? ›
Accentuating or drawing only eyes indicates a cautious, suspicious doodler. Doodles of ears usually mean that the doodler feels they have to listen too much to someone.Why do psychologists ask you to draw a tree? ›
The Tree-Drawing Test (TDT, Koch's Baum Test) is a projective psychological examination often used for assessing personality in the developmental age . Its easiness of administration makes it a useful tool to express self-image and emotional states with relatively little resistance.What does it mean when you draw the sun in the corner? ›
A partial sun, drawn in the upper corner of a drawing, could indicate signs of anxiety regarding authority figures. A sun barely peeking through a cloudy sky could indicate signs of depression and maybe even feelings of hopelessness in their situation.”How do I get better at art? ›
- Practice Your Art Skills Every Day. ...
- Study Colour Theory. ...
- Study Value Scales. ...
- Learn New Skills from Tutorials, Videos, or Books. ...
- Develop Your Art Style by Studying Your Favourite Artists. ...
- Learn from Reference Photos. ...
- Break Complex Forms Down into Simple Shapes. ...
- Warm Up Before You Create New Art.
If you're considering this career, keep in mind that an art therapist needs certain personal qualities – such as sensitivity, empathy, emotional stability, patience, interpersonal skills, insight into human behavior and an understanding of artistic media.What is the difference between art therapy and therapeutic art? ›
Perhaps one of the most common differences between the two is the overall goal, which is self expression. In other words, the main goal involving art therapy is to either communicate or express something, while the main goal involving therapeutic art-making is to either experiment or learn something.Can an art therapist work as a therapist? ›
Some art therapists complete further training and specialise in areas such as working with families or people with a diagnosis of personality disorders. There are also opportunities for further training in psychotherapy or in evidence-based interventions such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).