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  • Writer's pictureChristopher Vu

Scientific Evidence Supporting Art Therapy

Updated: Nov 22, 2023

People have widely acknowledged the therapeutic effects of art therapy and developed a growing body of research that sheds light on its benefits.

The Intersection of Art and Science

Art therapy is a discipline that lies at the intersection of creativity, psychology, and therapeutic practice. It involves the use of art materials and creative expression as a means to understand and address emotional challenges. Art therapists (trained mental health professionals) will then guide clients in art-making to help them explore their emotions and gain insight into their psychological states.

The intersection of art and science
Art therapists guide clients in art-making to help them gain insight into their psychological states and emotions.

While art therapy has been used for decades, the scientific understanding of its efficacy has evolved. Research studies and empirical evidence have begun to shed light on the tangible benefits of art therapy, solidifying its place in the realm of evidence-based therapeutic interventions.

Art Therapy: The Healing Power of Creativity

The therapeutic use of art dates back to ancient civilizations, but in the 20th century, art therapy emerged as a formal field of study. The foundations of art therapy can be traced to pioneers such as Margaret Naumburg and Edith Kramer, who recognized the potential for artistic expression to facilitate healing.

Art therapy works on the premise that creating art can have therapeutic value. It allows clients to express their emotions, thoughts, and experiences that may be challenging to articulate verbally. Through art-making, clients can gain insight into their feelings, develop coping strategies, and embark on a path of self-discovery.

Scientific Evidence for Art Therapy

Numerous studies and research efforts have explored the therapeutic effects of art therapy. While covering all of them in this blog is impossible, we can highlight key findings and areas of interest within the field.

Art Therapy in Emotional Expression and Regulation:

Art therapy can assist clients in expressing complex emotions, especially when traditional verbal communication falls short. Borgmann (2002) even indicates that artistic expression can enhance emotional regulation and provide a healthy outlet for emotional release.

Emotional expression and regulation in art therapy
One good way to improve emotional control and release pent-up emotions is via artistic expression.

Art Therapy in Stress Reduction:

Numerous studies have shown that engaging in creative activities like art therapy can significantly reduce stress. Creating art triggers the release of endorphins, which are natural mood elevators. Moreover, focusing on the creative process can divert attention from stressors, promoting relaxation (Shella, 2018).

Art Therapy in Trauma Recovery:

Art therapy has proven to be a valuable tool in trauma recovery. According to Rafferty and Parcell (2016), creating art can help clients process traumatic experiences and reduce the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) since it offers a non-threatening means to address and understand deeply buried emotions.

Art Therapy in Alleviating Depression:

Bar-Sela et al. (2007) noted that art therapy is effective in alleviating symptoms of depression. It offers clients a non-verbal means of expressing their emotions, which can be particularly valuable for those who struggle to articulate their feelings verbally.

Art Therapy in Cognitive Enhancement:

Creating art involves problem-solving, decision-making, and creative thinking. Moghaddam and Irani (2010) stated that art therapy has improved these subjective mental skills and applied them to other aspects of a client's life, such as collaborations, interactions, and social relationships.

Art Therapy in Neurobiological Effects:

Recent neuroscientific research has shown that art therapy can positively affect brain function (Hass-Cohen & Carr, 2008). It can stimulate the brain's reward pathways and encourage the release of neurotransmitters associated with pleasure and well-being.

Art therapy in neurobiological effects
Art therapy promotes the release of neurotransmitters linked to happiness and well-being.

In Conclusion:

Art therapy offers a unique and creative approach to addressing emotional and psychological challenges. The growing body of scientific evidence supports the therapeutic value of art therapy across a wide range of populations and conditions. While more research is needed to explore its mechanisms and effectiveness further, the existing studies highlight the significant potential of art therapy in improving mental and emotional well-being.

It is important to note that art therapy is often used with other therapeutic approaches and should be conducted by trained and credentialed art therapists. The combination of empirical evidence and the experiences of clients who have benefitted from art therapy underscores its value as a valuable tool in mental health and therapy. As research continues to evolve, art therapy remains a dynamic and promising avenue for emotional expression, healing, and personal growth.


  1. Bar-Sela, G., Atid, L., Danos, S., Gabay, N., & Epelbaum, R. (2007). Art therapy improved depression and influenced fatigue levels in cancer patients on chemotherapy. Psycho-oncology, 16(11), 980–984.

  2. Borgmann, E. (2002). Art therapy with three women diagnosed with cancer. Arts in Psychotherapy, pp. 29, 245–251. doi:10.1016/S0197-4556(02)00172-7.

  3. Hass-Cohen, N., & Carr, R. (Eds.). (2008). Art therapy and clinical neuroscience. London, England: Jessica Kingsley.

  4. Moghaddam, K., & Irani, A. (2010). Painting instruction for developmentally disabled children. Exceptional education, 103, 53-47.

  5. Rafferty, K. A. , Parcell, E. (2016). Dialectical Tensions Experienced During Pediatric Chronic Illness: Analyzing Art Therapy Conversations from a Relational Dialectics Perspective. Journal of Clinical Art Therapy, 3(1), retrieved from:

  6. Shella, T. A. (2018). Art therapy improves mood and reduces pain and anxiety when offered at the bedside during acute hospital treatment. The Arts in Psychotherapy, 57, 59-64. doi:10.1016/j.aip.2017.10.003.

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