Art: Therapy That Works

There was a time when art therapy seemed like something that kids did for fun. But new research has found that drawing, painting, and sculpting can be more than recreational creative outlets.

For patients who are limited in the expression of their feelings — children and those suffering from Alzheimer's disease, strokes, and post-traumatic stress disorder — art therapy has proven to be an excelent outlet. The most exciting art therapy research, however, has focused on cancer patients. The National Institutes of Health found that cancer patients who received eight weeks of a mindfulness-based art therapy (a combination of meditation and art therapy) reported a significant decrease in distress, anxiety, and depression. These patients also experienced an improved quality of life and more energy.

Another study, this one from Northwestern Memorial Hospital, found that just one hour of art therapy significantly reduced a variety of cancer-related symptoms like pain, anxiety, exhaustion, depression, loss of appetite, and shortness of breath.

"A lot of people look at art therapy with suspicion. Is it just a diversion, doodling or baby-sitting?" said American Art Therapy Association director Cathy Malchiodi in a Los Angeles Times interview. "With research, doctors are seeing how much progress patients are making, and they realize it's not just entertainment."

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