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What is Drawing Therapy?

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  • Written By: T. Carrier
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 20 November 2016
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Drawing therapy is a form of expressive therapy used in mental health counseling, and involves expression through art. The act of drawing works as a mediating communication tool between a counselor and an individual, allowing the therapist to access various modes of self expression. As such, drawing therapy typically serves one of three primary purposes: self-enhancement, expression of stressful events, or diagnostic tool.

While many therapies deal with talking and thinking and are meant to work through issues in an organized and logical manner, drawing therapy allows an outlet for the more right-brained activities of an individual: creativity and emotional response. Tapping into creative impulses can improve an individual’s self-expression and likewise improve self-esteem. Individuals in environments ranging from arts and crafts clubs to prisons have discovered the benefits of drawing murals, tattoos, or simple pencil-and-paper pictures.

Through this therapy, individuals can give individualized and concrete form to their emotions. Such expression may occur by drawing actual events and images or by drawing abstract shapes, lines, or objects that serve as symbols of the individual’s thoughts and experiences. Individuals may then examine their inner world and alter pre-conceived notions about themselves and the world around them. In this manner, drawing therapy also serves as an effective aspect of left-brained, rationally based cognitive therapy.

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Another beneficial aspect of drawing therapy is catharsis, or emotional release. In many cases — particularly after traumatic events — an individual may be unwilling or unable to talk about details and memories. Drawing interventions provide an outlet for the individual to work through his or her event-related feelings. For example, a child who has experienced some form of abuse may remain silent because of fear or shame. Drawing, however, is an activity most children deem safe and liberating, and thus a traumatized child may be more willing to convey complex emotions and memories through this means.

Some mental health professionals take a more scientific approach to art therapy by assessing individuals on a wide variety of traits. Many advocates have long believed that drawing content could reveal aspects of an individual’s personality. The degree of detail provided in a drawing could also provide insight into intelligence, as administrators of the Draw-a-Person test promote. Some psychiatrists even examine aspects of a drawing, like color use and image presentation, as one method of uncovering potential mental illnesses.

Drawing therapy has received positive reviews from both patients and therapists. The training and accreditation required of practitioners adds further validity to the therapeutic methods. Therapy techniques have also branched from clinical settings, as drawing therapy in public schools has become more commonplace. Individuals have benefited from drawing therapy in everyday life as well, using simple scribbles to relieve stress or even for dream-tracking.

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pastanaga
Post 3

I love the idea of using art to keep a dream journal. That's never occurred to me before, but it could lead to some really awesome bits of art since dreams can be so surreal.

It might be difficult if you aren't a very good artist though. It might be easy to get frustrated. I remember I once tried to draw a scene I dreamed about a few years ago and it looked nothing like what I wanted it to look like on paper.

I guess you've just got to ignore the skill level and keep it up regardless. No one is going to look at it but you.

clintflint
Post 2

@KoiwiGal - I don't know if it really requires that much silliness though. It probably adapts depending on the person who is taking the therapy. Someone who wouldn't be happy with silliness wouldn't draw a flower in the first place. Or maybe the therapist would ask them to draw something else to represent their emotions.

KoiwiGal
Post 1

You really have to let go of being too much of a cynic for this to work well. The other day in my counseling session, I drew a random flower while I was waiting for my therapist to finish making a cup of tea and told her that it was just there to look pretty.

At the end of the session, she made me write or draw out what I think the "wise" flower would want me to know. It sounds cheesy, but she did it in a laughing kind of way and it worked well. But I can't imagine a lot of people would be able to get past the silliness of that kind of thing.

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