ARC Blog

Challenge Your Anxiety with Art Therapy

Art Therapy can help anyone.

According to the American Art Therapy Association (2017), art therapy can “foster self-esteem and self-awareness, cultivate emotional resilience, promote insight, [and] reduce and resolve conflicts and distress.” While this definition applies to all art therapy participants, art therapy has also been particularly beneficial for those living with anxiety disorders. 

There is a relationship between emotional and rational ways of thinking. Our thoughts drive our emotions, which live in our limbic system and amygdala. After working with clients who struggle with anxiety, I have found patterns in their thoughts and behaviors. Often, clients recognize their fears are fueled by imagination. Additionally, imagination plays a role in overriding these clients’ rational thinking. 

Benefits of working with an art therapist to manage anxiety include:

  • Creative self-expression
  • Increased confidence and self-awareness
  • Calming the mind 
  • Ability to experience a flow state
  • Feeling of achievement during the art process and with an art product 

Flow, as identified by Cs ́ıkszentmiha ́lyi (1991), is described as an altered sense of time as a result of complete absorption and engagement in a task. Flow state may be achieved during art therapy. During an art task, clients can calm their nervous system and engage in self-expression. Comparatively, clients process ideas verbally during traditional talk therapy sessions. In art therapy, there may be less verbal processing, and minimal eye contact as client and therapist engage in a creative process together.

Art therapy client “Charlie” (pseudonym) started the session with an emotion mandala. The art therapist then guided Charlie through a paint pour directive. Once he poured his paint, he tilted his art piece to maneuver paint across the canvas. Charlie noticed how little control he had over the paint. He pointed out how he didn’t have a choice in how the paint dripped from the canvas. As much as he wanted to use more paint, he knew it would result in a muddy piece of work. Charlie also identified the color he chose as “anger.” This color was most visible in his final art piece. Charlie and the art therapist discussed why “anger” color was so prevalent, and how this resonated with him. Charlie concluded that others can still feel my anger even when I think I’m hiding it. Charlie related this art process to the following themes: patience, movement, relaxation, and flow state. Charlie reported he achieved a state of flow during the art task, when he lost track of time, and again while waiting for the piece to dry. 

In this case, we see an individual art therapy session producing self-expression, the flow state, a sense of accomplishment, and increased self-awareness.

Paint Pour Mandala

Charlie’s session is just one example of what occurs at I Light LLC. At I Light, we offer counseling and art therapy services to the greater Grand Rapids area. Sessions at I Light are ethically facilitated by Registered Art Therapists and clinicians. I Light offers individual art therapy sessions, group art therapy sessions, therapeutic programming, and Open Studio hours. 

Leara Glinzak, ATR, MSAT is a registered art therapist, counselor, and owner of I Light LLC. She has been published twice in the peer-reviewed journal, The American Art Therapy Association and has given presentations at several conferences and symposiums including the American Art Therapy Association, Leading Age, Mount Mary Symposium and the Art and Science of Aging Conference. Leara also teaches at Grand Valley State University and serves on the Research Board of the American Art Therapy Association.
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