How can creating art also serve as therapy for older adults? Art is a creative, focused, self-reflective activity, capable of producing positive thoughts and emotions. When guided by a highly trained professional, its therapeutic impact can be profound.

What Does an Art Therapist Do?

An art therapist is a mental health professional who possesses at minimum a master’s degree in art therapy from an Art Therapy Association-accredited program. They do not have to be gifted artists, but they do have to have experience with a variety of art mediums, such as painting, drawing, sculpture and pottery-making.

Art therapists don’t critique a person’s art, but help guide them to use their art to freely express their feelings and emotions. They help develop skills that increase their students’ cognitive ability and self-awareness, and improve their interactions with others through the practice of art.

How You Can Benefit from Art Therapy?

Art therapy is a treatment program that can help improve or heal mental or emotional wounds, restore function, and improve feelings of health and wellbeing.

It can be helpful for many issues, such as:

  • Medical impairments
  • Dementia
  • Cancer
  • Depression
  • Grief
  • Severe stress and anxiety

Learning new art forms can enhance thinking skills and help those who are struggling to relax, deal with frustration, and focus on positive feelings.

Art therapy can also provide physical benefits by exercising hands and arms through movement. This can improve muscle coordination, enhance blood flow and increase a person’s dexterity.

In an art therapy group setting, you gather with likeminded people and interact with them, which can help address loneliness and isolation.

Focusing on your art should help you relax, which eases chronic pain.

Practicing creative arts may help people with dementia recover forgotten memories about loved ones, think more clearly, and connect with those around them.

In general, art therapy promotes healthy, positive feelings, enhanced physical abilities, and produces a calming effect.

What the Research has Shown

A 2018 study of seniors indicated that art therapy reduces stress and confusion, which in turn leads to addressing depression, and increasing cognitive function. Other advantages include a sense of accomplishment, improvements in hand dexterity and pain relief, and the improvement of communication with loved ones.

A National Institutes of Health examination of 31 reviewed studies on the benefit of the arts for older adults revealed “overwhelming positive cognitive and quality of life results for seniors participating in various art forms.” These art forms included:

  • Dance
  • Creative writing
  • Music
  • Theatre
  • Visual arts

Where do Art Therapists Work?

According to the American Art Therapy Association (AATA), art therapists work with individuals, couples, families and groups in diverse settings. You might find them working in the following settings:

  • Hospitals
  • Schools
  • Veterans clinics
  • Private practice
  • Psychiatric and rehabilitation facilities
  • Community clinics
  • Crisis centers
  • Forensic institutions
  • Senior communities

For more ideas on activities for seniors, please visit Bethesda’s Health & Wellness blog.