Unlocking wellness: The healing potential of art therapy in India

3 February 2023
Mounika Kuraparthy Written by Mounika Kuraparthy
Mounika Kuraparthy

Mounika Kuraparthy

Mounika likes writing blogs and short stories and her favorite topics are gender, well-being and...

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Nilom Shah Reviewed by Nilom Shah
Nilom Shah

Nilom Shah

Nilom Shah, Counseling Psychologist Nilom B Shah is a Mental Health...

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Humans have always been drawn to art. Since the days of the cave dwellers, our ancestors used art to express themselves. Music, dance, or visual art, no matter the form, studies show that artistic presence reduces anxiety and boosts mental and physical health. 

Speaking about art being therapeutic, Nilom Shah, a therapist and member of the MyndStories Editorial Panel says, “Since ancient times, since the human mind started to evolve, art has been an integral part of human expression. Various forms of art: drawing, drama, music, and dance, have survived for centuries, surpassing some languages. It only shows how art is a strong medium of expression.”

Can art be used more actively to deal with mental health issues? Yes! This method is called art therapy and is fast gaining ground.

What is art therapy?

Therapy works wonders for everyone. Be it someone diagnosed with a mental illness, people dealing with trauma, or someone simply trying to optimize their mental well-being. Art therapy is a method of psychotherapy where various art forms are used to help a person express themselves and make sense of their emotions.

Juliet King, Associate Professor in the Art Therapy Department at George Washington University, explains the role of creative expression in healing. 

In a podcast, she says that some of our memories, usually the traumatic ones, get stored at a less conscious level- in our body. “When memories are stored in our body, we don’t have conscious access, and we also don’t have verbal access,” she explains. In such cases, non-verbal communication becomes the only way to reach and process those memories. 

Who is it for?

One of the most common misconceptions about art therapy is that it is only for people who are artistic by nature. This could not be farther from the truth. In art therapy, the focus is not on the final piece. It is in the process of art making. What does that process make you feel, and what are you learning about yourself as you go through it? Therefore, art therapy is for anyone willing to try it.

Art therapy vs. therapeutic art

Art is inherently therapeutic. Creating art or just being in its presence positively affects our health. Coloring, doodling, and pottery are some art forms that have become popular as relaxing activities. While art does have this effect on us, this should not be confused with art therapy. The latter leans heavily on the relationship between a therapist and the client. 

An art therapist has a toolbox that comes with art supplies to allow their clients to express themselves. They are also equipped with professional methods of helping their clients make sense of their art and emotions. While you can practice therapeutic art at home, it is not a substitute for art therapy.

Art therapy in India

This form of therapy is still in its nascent stage in India.

“In India, it is still not common to accept help for mental health issues. Awareness and understanding are gradually improving, but we have a long way to go. Talk therapy is comparatively more convenient. While it requires a safe space to communicate, it can be done virtually as well. For engaging in art therapy, there is an inevitable cost factor of physical space and material,” Nilom explains. 

However, a few centers across the country do offer art therapy sessions.

  1. Anantaraa 

Located in Mumbai, Anantaraa offers a year-long course in arts-based therapy. They also offer shorter workshops that equip the clients to use art therapy in their everyday life. 

  1. Sankalpa

This institution offers individual art therapy and community art programs. You can also volunteer or intern at Sankalpa, situated in the serene location of Auroville, Pondicherry.

  1. Blissful Mind Therapy Centre

Blissful Mind Therapy Centre is located in Mumbai. The center focuses on expressive arts and has programs for children, individuals, and families.

  1. Arth

At Arth, another center in Mumbai, individual art therapy sessions are offered to help clients. 

  1. Abhyaantar Healing Arts

Located in New Delhi, Abhyaantar offers Expressive Arts Therapy, which is a combination of visual arts, dance, drama, and creative writing to help their clients express themselves.

Art therapy

What are the types of art therapy?

Art therapy is a broad field and has many mediums. Not everyone expresses themselves the same way, do they? Even in typical therapy sessions, the therapist customizes their approach to best suit and aid the client. Similarly, in art therapy, the therapist will choose the medium to help the client best express and understand their emotions.

Here are some popular visual art mediums used in art therapy:

Sketching: This is simply putting pen to paper and sketching out whatever comes to mind. This is an easy method that requires no supervision. The key is to draw whatever you feel like and not worry about the end product. You could use pens, pencils, crayons, pastels, or charcoal.

Doodling: This art form has become increasingly popular in recent years. Doodling is what happens when you idly scribble on a piece of paper. Remember your school days when you used to doodle on the last page of your notebook? This is exactly that! A post-it and a pen are all you need to get started.

Painting: Use brushes or just your fingers to paint! Finger painting is known to be extremely therapeutic and relaxing. Painting involves flowy techniques that sets it apart from the others. 

Sculpting: Modelling clay can be used to create sculptures and 3D models. Pressing the clay between your fingers and gently molding it into the shapes you want can be stress-relieving for many people.

Coloring: Yes, this one is for adults too! Focusing on intricate designs and gradually filling them with color can relax your amygdala, the brain’s fear center. This meditative practice helps a restless mind to take a break, unwind and relax.

Making collages: Take out your old pictures and put them together in a collage! All you need is a piece of cardboard, scissors, glue, and some treasured photos. Collage-making removes the pressure of creating an original art piece from scratch while stimulating your creative expression. Besides, looking back at some of your best times is surely a joyful experience, no?

Getting started on art therapy

As mentioned before, art therapy can only be done with a professional therapist in the field. However, you can use art to relax, destress and regulate your emotions. Here’s how you can do that in the comfort of your home.

  1. Choose the medium: Everyone is unique, and so is how they express themselves. Choosing the medium best suited for you is the first step to employing art for therapeutic purposes. This might take a bit of experimenting. Play around and see what works best.
  2. Do not worry about the outcome: This cannot be stressed enough. The focus in art therapy is always on the process. Pay attention to how you feel when engaged in art-making. What emotions are you going through?
  3. Play some music: Add another layer of art to your therapeutic art sessions with relaxing, soulful music. Or not. If silence works best for you, skip the music. Ensure you do not go for fast beats or music that excites you. 
  4. Invite friends over: Only if you think it will help. Engaging in art for therapeutic purposes can be very personal and not something you might want to share. And that’s okay. But if you have trusted friends with whom you want to share this experience, do that. A community is great for healing, so if you have friends to join you, great! If not, not a problem.

Engaging in and creating art might be one of the best things you do for your mind and body. Start small and build the process as you learn more about yourself.