Treating Anxiety With Art Therapy

Non-traditional treatment options may help manage anxiety symptoms

woman painting picture
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Panic disorder is a type of anxiety disorder that is characterized by persistent and frequently unexpected panic attacks. These attacks are marked by a mix of physical and cognitive symptoms, such as sweating, shaking, shortness of breath, and fearful thoughts.

Fearful perceptions about panic attacks can become so severe that you may develop avoidance behaviors. These avoidance behaviors develop into a separate and commonly co-occurring condition known as agoraphobia, which causes you to stay away from environments or situations that may trigger a panic attack.

Panic disorder is a treatable condition and there are several different treatment options. When considering therapy, most people envision traditional “talk therapy” or psychotherapy in which the qualified professional and client meet to discuss symptoms and develop goals. However, artistic endeavors also offer a form of therapeutic healing.

What Is Art Therapy?

Art therapy involves the use of art to promote health and wellness. The creative process is based on the belief that self-expression can help you resolve inner conflicts and problems, develop interpersonal skills, manage behavior, lessen stress, and increase your self-awareness. 

The use of art therapy for mental health purposes originated during the 1950s when it was found that art-making could assist in healing and coping with symptoms. During the art therapy process, a trained specialist guides the client’s experience through the use of counseling techniques and different types of artistic expressions.

Common art mediums used within the art therapy process include painting, drawing, sculpture, collage, and photography.

Art therapy does not require that a person has artistic experience or talent; even if you can't draw at all, it can still be beneficial to you. Art therapy can be used in conjunction with traditional individual therapy, group therapy, marriage and family therapy, and cognitive behavioral therapy techniques.

How Can Art Therapy Help With Panic and Anxiety?

Art therapy provides a way to gain insight and understanding through self-expression. The fears and other emotions that often accompany panic disorder can be hard to express through words alone, so the creative process of art therapy can help you tap into and express deep feelings. 

Getting Started in Art Therapy

Engaging in creative endeavors on your own may be a great way to combat stress and practice self-care. But to get started in art therapy, you will need a qualified art therapist to help you in the healing process. Qualified art therapists are usually available in a variety of settings, including community agencies, private practices, hospitals, and clinics.

When you seek an art therapist, verify that he or she has additional experience working with people with panic disorder. Your current doctor or therapist may be able to refer you to a licensed art therapist. You can also check out the Art Therapy Credentials Board online directory where you can find a listing of available art therapists in your area.

Art therapy can be a useful supplement to your therapy but should not be viewed as the sole path to recovery. Work with your therapist and healthcare providers to develop a comprehensive treatment plan for your panic disorder.

Sources:

American Art Therapy Association. "What is Art Therapy?" 2010. https://arttherapy.org/about/.

Malchiodi, C.  Art Therapy Sourcebook, 2007. 

McNiff, S.  Art Heals: How Creativity Cures the Soul, 2004. 

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