Art Therapy | Art Therapy and ADHD

by Kellie Kiernan October 15, 2018

Art therapy is an alternative ADHD treatment that uses different creative media, such as pencils, paints, oil pastels, and clay to help people express themselves and learn life skills. Artwork, and the process of creating it, is evaluated by a trained art therapist and used to teach coping skills that kids or adults with ADHD can use outside of the therapy studio.Art therapy uses the processes of drawing, painting, and sculpting to help children address emotional problems, develop interpersonal skills, manage behavior, reduce stress, and increase self-awareness.

Children with ADHD and learning differences often have intense emotions, poor social skills, and low self-esteem.

Children naturally communicate through art and play, and art therapy gives them a useful, nonverbal approach to face these challenges. Art therapy can help you learn to cope with impulsivity, decision making, coping, sequencing, flexibility, and social skills, and can help boost self-esteem, says Fogel. It provides a sensory experience that can help you feel more confident and in control.

"We have found that when you stimulate the brain and practice and use it, the brain develops more connections, and so by simply doing something in an external world and repeating and rehearsing, there's an outside/inside connection," says Fogel. So with art therapy, the brain is learning to adapt and translate those learned experiences into everyday life, helping the person make better decisions at school and at home.

The act of creating art is stimulating for the brain, which is important for people with ADHD. "They are stimulation seekers because [stimulation] increases the uptake of the dopamine and helps them to stay focused," says Safran. "It's often more helpful than cognitive therapy."

How Art Therapy Works

Art therapy uses the processes of drawing, painting, and sculpting to improve well-being and confidence in kids. It is based on the premise that self-expression can be used to address emotional problems, develop interpersonal skills, manage behavior, reduce stress, and increase self-awareness.

Sweeping a brush across a canvas requires motor skills. Drawing a picture of a memory requires analytic and sequential operations, logic, and abstraction. Working through the sequence of steps needed to complete an art task requires attention skills and working memory.

Making art generates a relaxation response and improves a child's mood. Creative activity increases brain levels of serotonin, the lack of which can lead to depression. Manipulating clay for five minutes can reduce stress hormones more than squeezing a stress ball.A centering art activity, such as coloring a mandala (a circle design with geometric patterns), before a group activity has been shown to increase an individual's attention span and decrease impulsive behavior, promoting better decision-making and focus during tasks. As part of a comprehensive treatment program, art therapy can help students feel in control.

Mood Disorders & Art Therapy

Mood Disorders & Art Therapy

by Kellie Kiernan September 15, 2018

Every single day we are challenged. Whether it be by work, a personal challenge, or a stressful situation with a pet, friend or family member, things happen that can affect our moods or temperament. We can get grouchy, seek solitude, or suddenly find it difficult to focus on things. Most of the time this is temporary, and we are able to overcome the challenges or perhaps simply "sleep on it" to stabilize ourselves. But for some, these mood swings may come, go, and come again in frequent episodes, seemingly (to others) for no reason. These episodes (mood changing from a more positive, or elated state, to a depressive state, then back) are classified as manic episodes. Some of us struggle personally or know someone who is diagnosed with a mood disorder. Bipolar disorder, seasonal affective disorder, and major depressive disorder are a few of the many types of mood disorders.

These types of disorders can have a devastating impact on mental health, so it is important for those affected to seek the help of a mental health professional. Art therapy is an avenue well worth exploring for those looking for help in expressing their emotions through the creation of art. This type of therapy can help with creating self-awareness by visually making symbolic representations of feelings. Those suffering from bipolar disorder, for instance, might use art in a therapeutic form to release pent-up feelings or frustrations and to learn about themselves, their feelings and possible triggers. In doing so, they may be able to recognize more quickly the onset of an episode or be able to better navigate through an episode in the future.

Art therapy can provide self-expression, hope and understanding and could be key in providing insight into why these feelings arise and how to develop and utilize coping skills throughout life.

Mayo Clinic - mood disorders, symptoms and causes
How Art Can Help Monitor Bipolar Symptoms

Art therapy and Autism

by Kellie Kiernan August 20, 2018

"Autism spectrum disorders (usually just referred to as autism) are often misunderstood disorders. Those with autism have difficulty when it comes to communicating with others, don't always pick up on social cues, often engage in repetitive behaviors, may have more interest in things than people, and could show no (or feel no) empathy toward others. One of the reasons why autism is so misunderstood is because the severity of symptoms, and therefore how well an autistic person can function in society, runs the gamut from quite mild to very intrusive on a day-to-day basis. It is a lifelong condition. Though signs of autism may not always be apparent until an infant is one to two years old, research is showing that it is most likely a disorder that they were born with.

This is why integrating various therapies can be crucial to helping someone with autism cope, giving them the needed tools to help them navigate through life's many challenges with much more ease than otherwise might have been. Art therapy has over 70 years of well-documented success in helping people learn to express themselves in a healthy way, learning to cope with hardships, and enriching lives. The significance of art therapy on autism cannot be understated, and whether a child or adult with the disorder, the impact can lead to profound results.

Because people with autism have trouble communicating with others, visual arts can provide a way for them to express themselves in a nonverbal way. Talking through issues and feelings can be a very intimidating thing for anyone, but a child or adult with autism may have an even more difficult time communicating themselves clearly to a therapist. The role of creating art in this case is to form an expressive bond between the person with autism and their therapist slowly over time. In a safe and controlled environment, confronting certain stimuli which otherwise might be quite a challenge, promotes tolerance and gives the skills needed to learn to cope with those things that fall outside their comfort zone on a regular basis. In time art therapy has the potential to open doors of self-expression and newfound confidence for those with autism, providing a foundation where they might learn to build upon. The hope of being able to negotiate through social interactions becomes much more real. To cull from newly discovered techniques when dealing with sensory overload is crucial. And to become emotionally empowered can be a liberating experience.

The ultimate goal is for the person seeking therapy to attach positive value to self-expression, while promoting open-mindedness to other points of views as well, so that they may not feel put-off, or shy away when confronted with ideas or opinions they might not have considered beforehand. Learning the skill of expression through art can be a vital and life changing step for a person with autism."

Autism Art Therapy