Art Therapy is More Than Mindfulness, and Where Tech Comes In

This weekend I gained a totally new insight into art therapy, and how it is so much more than a mindfulness practice. For a long time I thought art, when used as a “therapy”, was primarily helpful because it channeled our focus away from our thoughts. Therefore, I typically grouped the practice alongside things like meditation. Instead, what I discovered, and what I will talk about more in this post is about the therapeutic expressiveness of art. I also will share my ideas on how the future of technology ties into all of this.

My Recent Experience with Art as Therapy

Before I touch on the more nuanced aspects of art therapy, I would like to share my recent experience painting. This past weekend a friend and I had plans to go to concert Saturday night. We decided to paint during the day before we headed over to the show. However, we became some immersed in the creative process we ended up never leaving for the show.

For some time I have been having trouble putting into words exactly what MentalUpdate is about, and what I want to accomplish with it. Even though I had put a lot of thought and time into creating MentalUpdate. I had a very good sense what of MentalUpdate is, but my problem was being able to communicate this idea concisely. I had a mixed bag of feelings, ideas, and goals tied to MentalUpdate and my mission. What painting offered was a tangible way to express my inner feelings and ideas which I could not express in words.

When I began painting I had a vague idea of the message I wanted to communicate. What evolved over the creative process was a deeper understanding of my ideas and feelings. And that is exactly what you can see in paintings above.

  1. The painting of the peace sign communicates my feelings on positive change, revolution, and peace on earth. It is a strong peace sign, which symbolizes the power of unwavering peace. Despite a negative past, or hard times we can choose to go forward with peace.
  2. While the colorful painting of the palm speaks to my connection with intuition and a higher self. It represents the beautiful mystery of the mind and soul.
  3. The final painting which is unfinished depicts a meditating robot. This picture helps to symbolize an optimistic vision of the future. A future were we choose to make technology that changes us for the better!

While these messages and themes can now be clearly understood, it was through art that I was finally able to concisely express myself. I think this is the true value art therapy which can be missed, if it is only thought of as a mindfulness practice. Art provides a platform to express thoughts and feelings in a way that language cannot. By accessing and processing your mind in a manner that is unattached to language, you are able to perceive yourself from a whole new framework. I also think this process help you recognize that language is just way to represent our mind and the world, but the true nature of these things are far more complex.

Expressive vs. Mindfulness Art Therapy

After this experience I began to look into methods of art therapy and found this expressive form of therapy to be quite popular. The basic premise of expressive art therapy is that we are able to abandon our typical expectations of the world and our thoughts, and instead move into a space of imagination and creativity. It is believed to be effective because creativity offers a new pathway to discover your inner-self. Instead of accessing your deeper self with ruminating thoughts or conversation, we can let our emotion come out in a unique and subjective manner.

If you are interested in finding a professional guide in this process, there is an organization called IEATA, International Expressive Arts Therapy Association. IEATA can help pair you with a qualified resource to explore expressive art therapy. (No affiliation just thought it was good resource)

Mindfulness-based art therapy is probably the methodology of art therapy we are most accustom to hearing about. In recent years there has been an increase amount of mindfulness coloring books and guides appearing online and in bookstores. Mindfulness art therapy blends ideas from meditation into the artistic process. The main idea is to become so intertwined within the creative process that we become unattached to thought and undesired emotion. Just like mediation, being mindful helps to monitor unwanted thoughts and behaviors. The increased ability to detect and shift our attention away from undesired thoughts is a main focus of mindfulness therapy.

Art Therapy Now and in the Future

One of the most interesting aspects of art therapy is its effectiveness does not seem to depend on the creative medium. We can paint, sketch, sew, or use any other creative medium and find similar effects. This is because the primary goals of being mindful or generating inner expression are not tied to the tools, but rather the intention and methods. The reason I mention this distinction is because I believe we can expand our concept and use of art therapy to digitally creative mediums as well.

In the modern era we have access to photo-shop, video editors, and even virtual reality platforms. Unfortunately, my feeling is that these platforms are traditionally looked at as technological, and not as truly creative tools. While I believe many creatives who use these tools, definitely understand and utilize them to create, I still think there is a divide between digital and traditional art forms.

What if we thought about these digitally creative tools as therapeutic, just like we do traditional art forms?

We can get a sense of the genuine artful nature of digital tools when thinking about things like VR, virtual reality. The ability to be immersed in a completely new and creative world seems to lend itself easily to therapeutic uses. However, this is not a huge focus or conversation in the industry. My impression is VR has beneficial experiences, but is primarily concerned with entertainment. I believe as consumers and individuals who want a positive future, we need to seek out tools and experiences that promote health and self-growth. As we move into a more digitally intertwined existence, we should not forget the benefits of art. It has the ability to tap into our inner-self and help alleviate our inner turmoil. To continue leveraging the benefit of art therapy in the future we must expand our concept of this therapy to include digital tools. This will be an experimental process, but one that has the potential to help art therapy reach a whole new audience. Imagine the wider impact if digital tools become accepted as an effective self-driven approach to therapeutic self-care. We can make technology change us for the better, but it is up to us to seek out these experiences and vocalize our desire for them.

What technologies currently exist that could be used for art therapy? Comment Below.



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store