Below are some peer reviewed articles about the effectiveness of using art therapy to treat various psychological issues-ranging from work with vulnerable populations (prisoners, the elderly, homeless people, etc) to depression and low self esteem issues. Click on the titles to access the articles directly (Abstracts and conclusions/summaries lifted directly from the appropriate websites).
1) Clinical effectiveness of art therapy: quantitative systematic review
From the limited number of studies identified, in patients with different clinical profiles, art therapy was reported to have statistically significant positive effects compared with control in a number of studies. The symptoms most relevant to the review question which were effectively targeted in these studies were depression, anxiety, low mood, trauma, distress, poor QoL, inability to cope and low self-esteem. The small evidence base, consisting of low-quality RCTs, indicated that art therapy was associated with an improvement from baseline in all but one study and was a more effective treatment for at least one outcome than the control groups in the majority of studies.
2) Art Therapy for Children: How It Leads to Change by Diane Waller
from Goldsmiths College, UK
The aim of art therapy is to facilitate positive change through engagement with the therapist and the art materials in a safe environment. This article will explore how art therapy is used to help children with emotional, developmental and behavioural problems. It will show how change occurs during the process of physical involvement with the materials; through the making of a significant art object; through sublimation of feelings into the images1; and through communication with the therapist via the art object. The article is illustrated with case vignettes which demonstrate how the theories underpinning art therapy are put into practice, drawing attention to the changes that occur as a result.
3) Arts and vulnerable people: examining the evidence base
This paper reviews the research evidence on the impact of arts therapy for vulnerable people. Participation in arts projects is linked to positive outcomes, such as symptomatic relief, raised self-esteem, and building social capital. The paper outlines the four principal forms of formal arts therapy, which are: art therapy, music therapy, drama therapy and dance movement therapy. It explains the rationale behind arts therapy and other arts initiatives, and how they may be beneficial to vulnerable people, including: individuals with mental illnesses; prisoners; Individuals receiving palliative care; older people; and homeless people. The paper concludes that while there is a need for more large-scale studies that differentiate between various types of therapy, the inherent value of producing and being involved in art should play a role when thinking about the added value of arts therapy. (Edited publisher abstract).
This systematic review evaluates the existing quantitative evidence base on the impact of art and music therapy with vulnerable children and young people. It discusses vulnerability in relation to five broad subject areas: adoption, attachment and parent-child bonding, mental health, behavioural and social interaction difficulties and special educational needs. These five categories cover a total of 10 specific conditions and diagnoses. The review carried out searches for evidence published since 2000. A total of 51 studies were identified in the review, of which 49 were unique studies. Of these 49 studies, 25 studies demonstrate that art and music therapy can be effective means of supporting vulnerable children and young people. A breakdown by discipline shows that 54% (7 of 13) of studies exploring art therapy were predominantly positive, slightly higher than the proportion of music therapy investigations 50% (18 of 36). However, the review concludes that more investigation is needed before meaningful conclusions can be drawn about the impact of art and music therapy with respect to specific contexts or diagnoses. (Edited publisher abstract).
This review aimed to evaluate evidence for the clinical effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of art therapy for non-psychotic mental health disorders.
Conclusions: From the limited available evidence, art therapy was associated with positive effects when compared with a control in a number of studies in patients with different clinical profiles, and it was reported to be an acceptable treatment and was associated with a number of benefits. Art therapy appeared to be cost-effective compared with wait-list but further studies are needed to confirm this finding as well as evidence to inform future cost-effective analyses of art therapy versus other treatments.
More articles (mostly trauma related):
6) Chapman, L., Morabito, D., Ladakakos, C., Schreier, H., & Knudson, M. M. (2001). The effectiveness of art therapy interventions in reducing post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms in pediatric trauma patients. Art Therapy, 18(2), 100–104.
7) Gersch, I., & Sao Joao Goncalves, S. (2006). Creative arts therapies and educational psychology: Let’s get together. International Journal of Art Therapy, 11(1), 22–32.
8) Lyshak-Stelzer, F., Singer, P., Patricia, S. J., & Chemtob, C. M. (2007). Art therapy for adolescents with posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms: A pilot study. Art Therapy, 24(4), 163–169.
9) Malchiodi, C. A. (2001). Using drawing as intervention with traumatized children. Trauma and Loss: Research and Interventions, 1(1), 21–28.
10) Murphy, J. (2001). Introduction. In J. Murphy (Ed.), Art therapy with young survivors of sexual abuse: Lost for words (pp. 1–15). Hove, East Sussex: Brunner-Routledge.
11) Pretorius, G., & Pfeifer, N. (2010). Group art therapy with sexually abused girls. South African Journal of Psychology, 40(1), 63.
12) Saunders, E. J., & Saunders, J. A. (2000). Evaluating the effectiveness of art therapy through a quantitative, outcomes-focused study. The Arts in Psychotherapy, 27(2), 99–106.
13) Stronach-Buschel, B. (1990). Trauma, children, and art. American Journal of Art Therapy, 29(2), 48–52.