How Art Therapy Can Help Relieve Your Stress

Medically reviewed by Elizabeth Erban, LMFT, IMH-E
Updated June 20, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include suicide, substance use, or abuse which could be triggering to the reader.
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Have you been experiencing more stress than normal and wondering how to effectively manage it? If so, you’re not alone. Art therapy is a great option for those looking to express themselves creatively while also managing their stress and anxiety levels. According to the American Psychological Association, millions of Americans have reported high stress levels over the last few years, and this form of counseling can be a great form of stress management.

However, there are treatments and therapeutic modalities that can reduce stress levels significantly. One such method is art therapy. In this article, we'll discuss what is art therapy about and why so many individuals creating art have found it to be beneficial provide stress relief.

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What is art therapy?

Art counseling like expressive arts therapy is sometimes used as a form of psychotherapy. It involves the encouragement of free self-expression. It might come through drawing, modeling, painting, or some other type of creative process. If you are in psychotherapy, your therapist may have you express yourself through creative activities in order to better understand you and your personality. They may then come up with some theories about what is going on with you based on the artwork that you create.

The American Art Therapy Association defines art therapy as follows: “Art therapy is a mental health profession that enriches the lives of individuals, families, and communities through active art-making, creative process, applied psychological theory, and human experience within a psychotherapeutic relationship.

Through art treatment, an individual can engage in various creative activities to foster self-awareness, control addiction behavior, explore their feelings, and reconcile emotional conflicts. They might also use it to increase self-esteem, reduce anxiety, and develop social skills.

Knowledge of visual design can be helpful for a person to get the most use out of this type of treatment, but that does not mean that you need to be an expert painter, writer, musician, or sculptor to benefit from this treatment. 

Where is it practiced?

This counseling can be done individually or in groups. The clients make art under the therapist's supervision, and in time, they may begin to feel better physically, mentally, and emotionally. Individuals experiencing excess stress may be candidates for art treatment, as may individuals who seek personal growth, those with mental health conditions, people who are ill, and those who have experienced traumatic episodes of some kind.

Who else can benefit from it?

Art may serve as an essential form of self-care that individuals can practice. The following are some examples of people who may benefit from this treatment:

  • People who have developmental disorders
  • Those who have social or psychological impairments
  • Those who have survived abuse*
  • Soldiers who have returned from combat
  • People who have survived a natural disaster 
  • Those who have physical health conditions, such as cancer or traumatic brain injuries 
  • Those who are on the autism spectrum
  • People experiencing depression
  • People with dementia 

This type of treatment may also help to resolve conflicts. Making art as therapy can improve interpersonal skills and manage problematic behaviors in both adults and children. You can achieve personal insight while enjoying an appreciation of the creative process and developing your creative side.

Who can become a counselor?

Art therapists generally get a master's degree from an accredited university that teaches this discipline. The American Art Therapy Association requires a master’s degree and adherence to various ethical codes and standards if you join this profession. In addition to the required coursework, students must complete a 100-hour practicum and 600 hours of supervised clinical internship. Also, students must obtain a prerequisite level of training in studio art methods, which may include painting, sculpture, drawing, and other art forms.

Getty/Zach Wolfe

Why does it work so well?

For some people, it may not be easy to talk about strong feelings and give feedback to a therapist. These individuals might not even be able to articulate what is bothering them due to stress, trauma, or another mental hindrance. However, it may become evident through their actions and daily challenges in their daily life that they are coping with anxiety. They might begin to demonstrate some of the many stress symptoms that can be the human body's way of handling anxiety and negative feelings.

Art can be a way of producing something visual that encapsulates all the things you feel and helps you live in the present. Even if there isn't any expressed purpose to the art that you are making, the very act of creating something and putting pen on paper may make you feel better. People who don't know much about art can obtain significant mental health benefits just by taking some time out of their day to stimulate the creative part of their brain and develop their focus. From a physiological standpoint, researchers found that art has also been shown to lower cortisol levels, which leads to reduced anxiety.

When you have a trained art therapist to guide you, you have someone who can encourage you to channel what you are feeling into different aspects of your work. After the creation process is complete, they will likely ask you to talk about what you've made and the symbolism it has for you. You may feel that a great weight has been lifted off you when you're done, as you can often achieve a personal catharsis when you create art.

How can you find a therapist?

If you are experiencing depression or excessive anxiety, you may want to try art therapy. You can search for art therapists in your local community, or you can try an online therapist. Online counseling is effective in treating the symptoms of depression, anxiety, and various other forms of mental health challenges. It also tends to be more affordable and available than in-person counseling.  

As you look for an art therapist, participants might look for someone who has some positive reviews online. You can look to see if there are any online communities or forums where the effectiveness of different therapists is discussed. 

Are you interested in starting art therapy?

Talking to someone about your stress levels

If you sense that there is a lot of stress in your everyday life and you need to speak to someone about it, then you can reach out to one of the qualified mental health treatment professionals at BetterHelp. BetterHelp has a team of over 30,000 therapists and counselors with experience in various types of counseling. You can be matched with someone experienced in art treatment or some other modality that aims to reduce stress.


Art is often an expression of our joy, but it can also come from our sorrow, depression, or frustration. If you feel stressed, then it may help to work with an art therapist to help you express your emotions through artistic expression. Take the first step to reducing stress and reach out to a BetterHelp therapist today.

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