Art therapy is a powerful tool that can help you on your wellness journey. When combined with group therapy, it can help participants destress, release pent-up emotions, and reduce anxiety. Painting can be extremely therapeutic, and in this article, we’ll teach you how to harness the healing power of art right from your own home.
What Is Art Therapy?
Art therapy is a therapeutic technique that uses the creative process of making art to enhance mental, physical, and emotional health. Art therapy can involve drawing, painting, sculpture, collage, pottery, and a variety of other artistic projects. It is a valuable tool that helps patients work through their emotions when talking is difficult. It activates the creative corner of the brain, allowing for reduced stress and anxiety, elevated mood, improved relaxations, and better self-awareness.
Art therapy has been shown to improve the effects of a variety of mental illnesses, including PTSD, depression, and anxiety. This works by allowing the patient to relax and feel at ease, as well as express their thoughts and feelings to a therapist in a non-verbal way. Art can be a powerful tool for self-expression, which is an essential part of a therapeutic process.
Art therapy has also been shown to have positive effects for people suffering with physical illnesses, such as cancer. While art therapy cannot alone cure any disease, the increased relaxation and anxiety that come with art therapy can work wonders for the body.
It should be noted that true art therapy should always be done under the guidance of a licensed therapist. However, there are still a variety of ways to reap some of the benefits at home.
The Benefits of Group Therapy
Group therapy is a type of therapy in which a large group of participants with similar struggles come together and share their experiences. There are a variety of benefits to receiving therapy in a group, as opposed to traditional one-on-one talk therapy.
Group therapy typically consists of five to 15 patients, and one licensed therapist. Many groups are designed around a specific problem every member is struggling with, such as depression, obesity, social anxiety, or substance abuse (Alcoholics Anonymous and similar programs are examples of this). Group therapy can also come in the form of support groups, for instance, people who have experienced the death of a loved one.
Psychologists claim that almost all participants are surprised by how rewarding a group therapy setting can be. Group therapy comes with a built-in support network of people who have experienced problems similar to your own. Oftentimes, other members of the group can provide coping techniques or answers to problems a patient is struggling with.
Speaking out loud about your problems and listening to the problems of others can help put your situation in perspective. Struggling with something like depression, anxiety, or addiction can feel isolating, like you’re the only person in the world struggling. Coming together with a group of people who have been in your shoes helps participants to feel less alone.
Art Therapy In a Group
Art can be a powerful tool for group therapy. It allows for free expression, which can sometimes be difficult in a traditional group therapy setting. This is especially true for group members who experience social anxiety, and may have a difficult time sharing their feelings, or feeling other people stare at them when they speak.
Completing an art project is also a fun and light-hearted activity, and can help group members to feel connected to one another. There are so many ideas for art therapy projects that can be done as a group. We’ve outlined a few below.
Meditative painting is a form of expression in which participants release negative energy and stressors. There is no skill required here, and the art can be as abstract or realistic as you want. Meditative painting can be extremely therapeutic, because it allows you to let go of negative energy in a physical, concrete way.
To begin a meditative painting, you first need to concentrate on your stressors, and think about why they’re weighing on you. It could be something as small as misbehaving kids or a fight with a spouse, or as big as an illness or the loss of a loved one. Imagine these stressors as physical objects, and notice what colors come to mind.
Once you’ve envisioned your stressors, you can begin painting. Acrylic paints work well here, but you can use any medium that feels right (we’ve broken down the most popular painting techniques here). Then, choose colors that mimic the ones you envisioned as your negative emotions or stressors. Go crazy! Let the brush guide you, and be as messy as you want. Allow the negative energy to flow out and release.
If you find yourself stuck on where to start, one technique that works well is to place small dots of color on your canvas or paper, and swirl the brush around whichever way you feel. Let your emotions guide you, and when you’re done, let go of the negative and breathe.
Meditative paintings work wonderfully in a group setting because they allow you to talk through your emotions and feelings once you’ve finished the painting, and you’re able to see how others express their thoughts in a physical way.
Working with watercolor paints can be extremely soothing, because of the soft, transparent colors and flowing consistency. For this activity, have each member of the group complete a watercolor painting of anything they want. It can be an object, a nature scene, or something completely abstract. Once the paintings have dried, cut them into strips, and arrange them or weave them together with other people’s paintings to create a brand new piece of artwork.
This activity symbolizes group harmony, and emphasizes the way that many different parts can work together to make a beautiful whole. It can also show that even things that are cut or broken can still be beautiful, perhaps even more beautiful than before.
Mountains and Valleys
For this project, ask each member of the group to paint an image of a mountain top and next to a valley. This project can be done with any type of paint, but watercolors and acrylics work especially well since they’re quiet drying and easy to work with. The image can be as simple or as detailed as you want, depending on the artists’ skill level.
Have each member of the group go around and discuss a low point they’ve experienced. This represents the valley. Group members can paint an image of this low point inside their valley, or write it down in words. Then, have everyone describe a high point. This represents their mountain top.
Discuss the following as a group: which was easier to come up with; the low point or the high point? Can you envision a bridge between your mountain and your valley, so they can meet somewhere in the middle? What did you learn from your low points and your high points?
Past, Present, and Future
Have your group paint three separate self-portraits: one of their past self, one of their current self, and one of their future self. Encourage them to use their imaginations, and express themselves freely with colors and abstraction. The future self portrait should be an ideal, what they want to see from themselves a few years down the line.
Once they’ve finished, have each group share their self portraits, and why they depicted themselves the way they did. Invite them to answer the following questions: who did I used to be? Did I like this version of my past self? What did I learn from my past? Do I like my present self? What do I want from my future self? What steps do I need to take to get there?
This project symbolizes the fact that every person is made up of different versions of themselves. In fact, different versions of ourselves can exist at the same time. It is also important to remember that you are not defined by your past, it is only a small part of who you are. You have the power to change your future.
Paint By Numbers
Paint by numbers is a great activity for group art therapy because anybody can do it, regardless of skill level. It is especially helpful for people who don’t consider themselves artistic. Completing a paint by numbers allows people to focus on completing small sections at a time, so the project doesn’t overwhelm them.
Paint by numbers represents how small actions can add up to big change, just like the small sections of paint add up to make a beautiful picture. It also encourages you to take things one step at a time. Completing a custom Paint Your Numbers set can be therapeutic because it allows group members to have full control over an image of whatever they want to portray, even if they’ve never painted before.
Completing art therapy in a group can help to relieve anxiety, reduce stress, and open up the conversation with the pressure off. It can also be a great bonding experience, and allow members of the group to trust each other and relate to each other.
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