Art Therapy

Dr. Saurabh Bhardwaj

Dr. Bhardwaj, Medical Director is a Board-Certified Addiction Psychiatrist (ABPN) and currently the Medical Director of Defining Wellness Center in Brandon MS. He is also an Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Medical Director of Center for Innovation & Discovery in Addictions (CIDA) at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. He has been in Mississippi since 2018, building Addiction services for the state's only medical center and joined Defining Wellness Center in 2022 to provide specialized dual diagnostic services. He is a recipient of Ruth Fox scholarship from AAAP and trailblazer teaching award from UMMC. He is also a Fellow of the American Society of Addiction Medicine.

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Art Assisted Therapy: A Creative Path to Healing and Recovery

Art has been a medium of expression since the dawn of civilization. From the cave paintings of ancient times to the masterpieces that adorn our museums today, art has always been a way to communicate, explore emotions, and convey thoughts that might be difficult to put into words. Over the years, this power of art given rise to what we now know as “Art Assisted Therapy.” At Defining Wellness Centers (DWC), art assisted therapy plays a pivotal role in helping individuals on their journey to recovery from substance use disorders and other mental health conditions.

What Is Art Assisted Therapy?

Art assisted therapy is a form of expressive therapy that harnesses the therapeutic potential of the creative process to enhance physical, mental, and emotional well-being. It provides a haven for individuals to navigate the intricate landscapes of their thoughts, feelings, and experiences using various artistic media. Unlike traditional therapies that rely heavily on verbal communication, art assisted therapy offers an alternative means of expression, tapping into the universal language of visuals and symbols.

The primary objective of art assisted therapy is not to produce masterpieces destined for galleries but rather to foster an environment of self-discovery and healing through the act of creation itself. Every brushstroke, every pencil mark, and every choice of color becomes a canvas for exploring your inner world, unearthing hidden emotions, and unraveling the threads of your narrative.

History of Art Assisted Therapy

The roots of art assisted therapy stretch back to the early 20th century when visionaries like Margaret Naumburg and Edith Kramer recognized the potent interplay between art and psychology. These pioneers understood that the process of artistic creation could serve as a gateway to understanding the human psyche and facilitating healing.

It was in the 1940s and 1950s that art assisted therapy began to be recognized as a formal therapeutic approach. The integration of art into psychological practices gained traction, and its benefits for self-expression, emotional release, and personal exploration became increasingly evident. Over time, the field matured, embracing various theoretical frameworks and methodologies, leading to its establishment as a legitimate and effective therapeutic modality. Art assisted therapy has permeated diverse sectors of mental health and wellness, solidifying its status as a valuable tool in the therapeutic toolkit.

The Settings of Art Assisted Therapy Practice

Armed with training and expertise in psychology and art, art therapists find themselves in many settings where their skills are crucial. Their scope encompasses various environments, including hospitals, schools, veteran’s clinics, private practices, psychiatric and rehabilitation facilities, community clinics, crisis centers, forensic institutions, and senior communities.

In these spaces, art therapists extend their expertise to individuals, couples, families, and groups, tailoring their interventions to suit each context’s unique needs and circumstances.

Types of Art Assisted Therapy

Art assisted therapy is a versatile discipline, encompassing a spectrum of approaches catering to clients’ diverse needs. Some of the prominent types include:

  1. Gestalt Art Assisted Therapy: This approach emphasizes the present moment, focusing on the individual’s interaction with their artwork as a mirror to their immediate experiences.
  2. Narrative Art Assisted Therapy: Through visual storytelling, individuals create artworks that reflect their unique narratives, weaving emotions and experiences into a tangible form.
  3. Person-Centered Art Assisted Therapy: Rooted in humanistic psychology, this approach prioritizes self-discovery and personal growth, utilizing the creative process to foster exploration and development.
  4. Analytic Art Assisted Therapy: Integrating psychoanalytic principles, this modality delves into the unconscious mind, allowing individuals to unearth buried thoughts and feelings through their artistic creations.

How Art Assisted Therapy Works

The foundation of art assisted therapy rests on the principle that creative expression can unlock doors to the subconscious, enabling individuals to access thoughts, feelings, and memories that might otherwise remain concealed. Engaging in the act of creation enables people to bypass the limitations of language, venturing into the realm of symbols, colors, and forms to communicate deeply ingrained emotions and experiences.

As individuals channel their emotions into their artistic endeavors, the process becomes a vehicle for self-exploration and healing. The therapist acts as a guide, supporting the client’s journey and facilitating insights that arise from their interaction with their artwork.

What to Expect in Art Assisted Therapy

Entering the realm of art assisted therapy often entails stepping into a nurturing, nonjudgmental space where artistic exploration is encouraged and celebrated. The therapist assumes the role of a compassionate guide, helping clients select artistic materials and techniques that resonate with them on a personal level.

The beauty of art assisted therapy lies in its emphasis on the creative process rather than the result. Whether splashing paint onto a canvas, molding clay into shapes, or assembling collages, creation is a conduit for introspection and emotional release.

As the artwork takes form, the therapist may facilitate discussions surrounding the piece. These discussions become a vessel for introspection, as the client gains insights into their emotions, experiences, and personal narratives through the visual language they’ve chosen to engage with.

Uses for Art Assisted Therapy

Art assisted therapy emerges as a versatile tool capable of addressing diverse emotional and psychological challenges across various population segments. 


Trauma, often harbored within the recesses of memory, can be a heavy burden. Art assisted therapy provides a sanctuary for individuals to externalize and confront the pain stemming from traumatic experiences. Translating their emotions onto a canvas, sculpture, or collage offers a safe and controlled environment for processing them. Art becomes a bridge, allowing individuals to communicate the incommunicable, liberating them from the clutches of their past, and enabling them to embark on a path to healing.

Stress and Anxiety

The modern world is rife with stressors that strain the fabric of mental well-being. Engaging in artistic activities within the context of art assisted therapy acts as a grounding and calming technique. Through mindful creation, people are drawn into the present moment, easing the grip of anxiety about the future or regrets from the past. The process encourages relaxation and a heightened state of self-awareness, nurturing a sense of serenity that can counterbalance the chaos of everyday life.


Depression casts a shadow over the vibrancy of life, dampening emotions and sapping energy. Art assisted therapy offers a glimmer of hope through creative expression. As people channel their inner turmoil onto their chosen artistic medium, they unlock a reservoir of emotions that they might have suppressed. The act of creation serves as an emotional outlet, allowing a surge of catharsis. Through art assisted therapy, clients can often find solace and a renewed sense of purpose.

Substance Use Disorders

Substance use disorders often accompany underlying emotional issues that drive individuals toward addictive behaviors. As a complementary element to traditional addiction treatment, art assisted therapy provides a platform for delving into these buried emotions. The process allows clients to confront the pain, trauma, or unresolved feelings that may have fueled their addiction. By visualizing their struggles, they can better understand the root causes of their substance use and start to heal from within.


The journey of self-exploration is profound, unveiling the intricacies of one’s identity, desires, and aspirations. Art assisted therapy offers a unique avenue for introspection. Through art, individuals can externalize their inner thoughts and emotions, gaining a new perspective on their narratives. This process fosters a deeper understanding of the self, enabling personal growth and self-discovery beyond traditional therapeutic conversations.

The Benefits of Art Assisted Therapy

Art’s therapeutic potential extends far beyond the artistic process, encompassing a range of benefits that contribute to clients’ holistic well-being

Emotional Expression

Art assisted therapy offers a haven for releasing intricate emotions that may be challenging to articulate using words alone. Through creation, people can externalize their inner worlds onto the canvas or sculpture, allowing emotions to take tangible form. This creative outlet becomes a powerful means of processing feelings, providing catharsis, and fostering emotional release.

Stress Reduction

The stressors of modern life often weave intricate webs around our minds, leading to heightened levels of stress and anxiety. Engaging in creative activities within art assisted therapy offers clients a reprieve from the pressures of daily life. Studies show that such activities reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol, leading to relaxation and emotional equilibrium. As individuals immerse themselves in the creative process, the rhythmic brush strokes or the tactile sensations of molding clay create a mindful escape from the tumultuous outside world.

Enhanced Self-Esteem

Within the nurturing confines of art assisted therapy, clients are not mere spectators but active creators. Accomplishing artistic goals instills a profound sense of achievement. This, in turn, fosters an enhancement of self-esteem. The act of creation is a testament to an individual’s unique talents and creative potential. As individuals see their ideas materializing into art, they experience a surge of confidence that resonates beyond the confines of the art studio.

Alternative Communication

For some, verbal communication may be challenging due to past traumas, developmental conditions, or other barriers. Art offers a visual language through which people can convey their thoughts, emotions, and experiences. The artwork becomes a dialogue, inviting the viewer to interpret its symbolism. This non-verbal communication allows individuals to express themselves authentically, breaking down the barriers that traditional conversations might impose.


The journey of creation is an act of empowerment in itself. Through art assisted therapy, clients assume an active role in their healing process. They exercise agency over their emotional exploration by picking up a paintbrush, selecting colors, or sculpting forms. This sense of control over the creative process translates into broader empowerment —an understanding that they can shape their healing journey. 

Art Assisted Therapy’s Evolving Landscape: Innovations and Research

Like any evolving field, art assisted therapy continues to expand and adapt to the changing needs of individuals seeking emotional healing and self-exploration. 

Innovations in Art Assisted Therapy

In recent years, art assisted therapy has witnessed a surge of innovative approaches that harness technology and interdisciplinary collaboration to enhance its impact. Digital art assisted therapy, for instance, merges artistic expression with the digital realm, allowing individuals to create, manipulate, and share their artwork in virtual spaces. This evolution not only expands accessibility but also opens doors to new ways of interacting with and interpreting artistic creations.

Research and Art Assisted Therapy’s Efficacy

Empirical research has played a pivotal role in validating the effectiveness of art assisted therapy. Studies have demonstrated its positive impact on reducing symptoms of anxiety, depression, and trauma-related disorders. Researchers have also delved into the neurobiological underpinnings of art assisted therapy, revealing how creative expression can modulate brain activity, foster neuroplasticity, and promote emotional processing.

Researchers have found that creating art activates the brain’s reward center, deepens focus, and helps people create coping mechanisms.

Specialized Applications of Art Assisted Therapy

As the understanding of art assisted therapy deepens, its applications extend beyond traditional settings. For instance, art assisted therapy has found a place within the realm of palliative care, offering individuals facing life-limiting illnesses a means to deal with existential concerns, communicate their fears and hopes, and leave a lasting artistic legacy.

In educational contexts, art assisted therapy has proven beneficial for children with learning disabilities and developmental disorders like autism. Children can build self-esteem, develop fine motor skills, and enhance their communication capacities by engaging in creative activities tailored to their abilities.

Beyond Traditional Boundaries

Art assisted therapy’s evolution transcends geographical borders, drawing inspiration from cultural practices worldwide. Indigenous art assisted therapy approaches, such as those rooted in Native American or Aboriginal traditions, emphasize the connection between art, spirituality, and healing. These holistic approaches emphasize the importance of reconnecting with one’s cultural heritage to promote emotional well-being.

Art Assisted Therapy in Addiction and Mental Health Treatment at DWC

At Defining Wellness Centers, we recognize the transformative potential of art assisted therapy in the context of addiction and mental health treatment. By seamlessly integrating art assisted therapy into its comprehensive treatment programs, we acknowledge the significance of providing clients with alternative avenues of expression and healing.

Within the walls of DWC, art assisted therapy becomes a powerful complement to traditional therapeutic methods. The therapeutic interventions we provide through various art mediums allow individuals to explore the emotional substrates that underlie their addiction, confront past traumas, and develop healthier mechanisms for coping and resilience.

Incorporating art assisted therapy into addiction and mental health treatment plans speaks to the holistic approach that DWC embraces. Acknowledging the intricate interplay between emotions, experiences, and addiction, we offer a support system for individuals seeking recovery. The utilization of art assisted therapy is a testament to Defining Wellness Centers’ commitment to fostering a multidimensional healing experience that addresses the complex layers of addiction and mental health challenges.

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