Art therapy is “a distinct discipline that incorporates creative methods of expression through visual art media.” There are a few different forms of art therapy, but, overall, it works as a form of psychotherapy to encourage creative expression while promoting healing and wellbeing.
For many, creative therapies — which also include dance, music, or writing therapy — can help those suffering from mental health issues to express themselves without having to talk or use words. This covers a wide range of both mental and physical illnesses by helping to provide focus and even hope for the future.
The great thing about art therapy is that it can be facilitated in person, remotely, on a one-to-one basis, or in a group environment. This makes it flexible for those leading art workshops and easy for participants to access therapy.
With that in mind, let’s explore some art therapy group activities for adults.
What happens in art therapy?
The specifics of each session are shaped by the various activities for art therapy that can be used. Generally speaking, the aim of a session is to help participants explore their emotions by giving them an outlet for self-expression. This can boost self-esteem and positivity, which can help to heal.
Art therapy doesn’t require any art skills or training for the participants. For those who run it, they generally need to have a master’s degree with 120 hours of supervised practice and 600 further hours of supervised art therapy internship.
The general structure of a one-to-one art therapy session includes:
- A client assessment
- Art making
- Post-art making
Group sessions can be held less formally, with a group assessment to start with, and then art-making to follow. However, it’s important to take into account the needs of each individual. Instead of asking them all to draw something similar with one art medium, try coming up with a theme or prompt and giving them the freedom to choose which medium they’d like to use.
We hope the following 12 interactive art therapy group activities for adults will give you a source of inspiration…
Art therapy techniques and exercises for adults
If you’re ready to start facilitating group sessions as an art therapist, the following ideas should give you a good starting point. Remember that you don’t just have to use one — a range of techniques can complement each other.
Some of your clients may feel more comfortable building or creating using clay, yarn, or Lego. Others might prefer drawing using markers, an ink pen, crayons, or paints.
The ideas below are all fun, easy-to-do, and will also encourage conversations between the group.
|Drawing in the dark||Lights off! The leader of the workshop tells a story for 5-12 minutes, and the participants are encouraged to draw what they can see or hear as the story is told. Once it’s finished, give everyone the opportunity to share the final product with the group.|
|Draw with your non-dominant hand||Drawing with the other hand helps encourage the brain to work in a different way. This can help bring out new ideas, thoughts, and emotions.|
|Emotions color wheel||Create a blank wheel with 6-10 feelings. Encourage participants to fill in each wheel with the colors, shapes, ideas, and objects that describe what they experience when they feel each of the positive and negative emotions.|
|Create mandalas||This can be done individually, or as a group with assigned sections for each person. Create a large circle (with room on the outside) and encourage everyone to draw, paint or color in their mandala.|
|Build a gratitude tree||Using a jar to hold the sticks in place, encourage each participant to add ‘leaves’ to their gratitude tree. These could be cut from magazines, drawn, painted, or written onto leaf-like pieces of paper.|
|Write a story||Writing a story is a well-researched area of emotional expression, and the benefits have been proven time and time again to help explore emotion and feelings through self-reflection. This might take the form of handwriting or an internet blog. Start with a theme, word, or phrase, and let the stories begin…|
|Carve soap||Starting with a piece of plain soap, allow your participants to carve into the piece to cut shapes or to craft a mini ‘sculpture’ such as a flower.|
|Self-portraits||In their chosen medium and format, ask your group members to create a self-portrait. This can be drawn onto a canvas, a piece of cardboard, a mask, or even created as puppets. This may help support self-esteem and body image.|
Helpful art therapy activities for anxiety
While art therapy supports recovery from many forms of mental and physical illness, anxiety and depression are often the common denominators. Below are a few art therapy ideas for anxiety, backed by psychologists.
Build a safe space
Encouraging your participants to build their own safe space is an important and eye-opening art therapy exercise. First, ask them to visualize a safe space. This might be an imaginary place or a mixture of places and objects that have made them feel safe previously. This can be built with a few easy resources such as magazines, glue sticks, and scissors!
Create a collage of emotions
Similar to the emotions color wheel above, a collage of emotions can help participants to better identify and understand their feelings. Themes could include family, emotions, identity, hopes, relationships, dreams, or the future.
Draw in response to music
Music can often be very emotive. While music therapy is its own entity, music can be used in art therapy to bring emotions to the forefront. It can be employed as a vehicle of self-expression on its own or when drawing, painting, or creating as part of art therapy. Ask your participants to draw while the music is playing, or have them sit and listen to a piece and then create something to represent the emotions they felt.
While the term Zentagle® is trademarked, this method has been proven to reduce stress and promote relaxation by allowing lines and shapes to simply emerge. The official Zentangle® method follows the following eight-step process:
- Gratitude and appreciation
- Corner dots
- Initial and sign
How to use essential oils alongside art therapy activities
Aromatherapy can create a calming atmosphere and promote relaxation. So, where appropriate, essential oils can be used to complement and enhance art therapy activities. Use a diffuser in the corner or the center of your space to diffuse and spread the scent throughout the room. Some essential oils are even thought to help reduce pain, promote mood and lessen anxiety.
The five most common essential oils are:
Below, we’ve put together some of the most frequently asked questions (FAQs) about art therapy activities.
What can art therapy treat?
While it won’t necessarily treat or fix the root cause of the problem, art therapy can be used to help boost self-esteem, express emotions, and to help lessen the feelings of anxiety and depression.
Who can benefit from art therapy?
Art therapy is generally applicable to anyone who needs emotional support. It’s most commonly used for people who have:
- Chronic or life-limiting illnesses
- Mental health issues such as anxiety and depression
- Eating disorders
- Learning disabilities
How does art therapy help anxiety?
Art therapy can help anxiety by promoting calm and relaxation, giving an outlet for emotional expression, and helping to boost self-awareness and self-image. It works with other therapies such as CBT or medication to help soothe and lessen the symptoms experienced by those with anxiety – but is not a substitute for holistic treatment.
We hope that this article has given you some inspiration on art therapy group activities for adults. Many of these can be adapted for kids and teens, too.
Remember to take the needs of each individual into account, even during group art therapy activities. By providing various options for expression, the therapy can be made more individualistic and impactful — rather than if you encouraged everyone to simply paint using watercolors, for example. After the piece has been made, have a conversation about what the piece means, what’s reflected within it, and the author’s creative process. This can shed some light on their inner dialogue and point you to ways you can help them.
To give you the maximum amount of time to focus on the sessions and the needs of your patients and to promote your workshop, consider using a workshop booking software system. It will help you free up valuable time from managing clients, payments, and your calendar. With automated reminders, you will help your clients to remember their sessions to ensure they’re getting the maximum benefit from their therapy.