Art therapy has been recommended by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) since as far back as 2008 for the treatment of people diagnosed with Schizophrenia, when the then co-director of the National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health, Dr. Tim Kendall, who helped to write the guidance, said “Dance, art and music therapy all seem to have a positive benefit.” The artist’s muse in the case of someone facing emotional distress, overwhelm and extreme states is the feeling, the sensation, or even the voices that they are hearing, and the guidance suggests that art therapy works particularly well in helping address a lack of motivation, apathy, and avoidance of social situations. Since the advent of the internet, these artistic endeavours by people can now be shared with friends and family, and there has been a real growth of advice and support that is now available online, especially by those who have previously had or still have mental health challenges.
Art particularly beneficial as an early intervention
Even though a comprehensive literature review on the benefits of art for people experiencing psychosis considers “art therapy to be a beneficial, meaningful, and acceptable intervention,” more and more thinking is coalescing around an even greater impact of art therapy on people with the diagnosis of schizophrenia at the earliest stage of treatment and support. Known as early intervention psychosis services, an article in the International Journal of Art Therapy shows the benefits of art therapy in reducing the impact of episodes of psychosis by focusing on channelling feelings through the creative medium of art. For those who may struggle with the basics of creating art, there are useful starter guides available online. This therapeutic practice shows the power of art as therapy, in contradistinction to art in therapy (where art may be used to facilitate a discussion between a therapist and their patient).
A therapeutic self-portrait
This theme of art as therapy was brought to life through a touring exhibition called ‘Reassembling the Self’ that toured the United Kingdom in 2015. Two artists with a diagnosis of schizophrenia, Camille Ormston, and Kevin Mitchinson, presented their self-portraits and did not shy away from themes such as emotional pain, distorted boundaries, and perceptual abnormalities. Art has also been used in a crisis context too, and this very insightful case study of a man shows some of the artwork he drew as he battled with articulating the challenges he was facing at the time. These ranged from a ‘bear’ that was hovering around him, through to the visualising of his fears. This visualisation helped calm him, as he was able to articulate his fears through his artwork.
Art has a very powerful role in helping transform unconscious thoughts into communicable conscious visual imagery. Its role in helping decipher feelings, thoughts, and emotions that are sometimes inaccessible to us, and helping us make sense of the voices that we hear, is a very powerful tool to be able to use in order to better manage mental health challenges.