Self-Expression and Art Therapy, what are the benefits?

When we say “self-expression” many activities probably flash through your mind—like choosing what clothes you wear, dying your hair, dancing to your favorite song, or painting something you like. Self-expression is not limited to participating in activities that bring us joy, but can be a tool to help us process the things we struggle with. With children, what does this look like when we give them the space to safely explore their feelings, thoughts and ideas when it is difficult to do so otherwise?

In the context of art therapy, the art being made along with the self-expression is given a specific focus. Cathy Malchiodi, Ph.D., psychologist, expressive arts therapist, trauma specialist and author wrote an article for Psychology Today, titled “Child Art Therapy: How it Works wherein she gives a brief overview of the specific therapeutic relationship cultivated between a young client and a professional: “art therapy is not just “arts and crafts” or even its first cousin, the ubiquitous coloring book.” To paraphrase, with the aid of a licensed art therapist, art therapy fosters an environment for meaning-making and self-regulation. It helps children process things that have happened to them, like a major life event or living with certain conditions, by giving them a safe environment to express negative thoughts, feelings, or emotions. “By providing kids a safe place to express their negative feelings and emotions, art therapy can help improve a child’s mental, emotion, and physical well-being,” writes Suruchi Shah, Mental Health Counselor and Art-based Therapist. In her article for The Indian Express,Art Therapy: A medium to help kids deal with challenging emotions” she lists further benefits of art therapy including boosting self-esteem, improving problem-solving skills, and “[helping] a child deal with feelings associated with sickness, trauma, and grief.” 

Although art therapy activities must be supervised by a professional to be therapeutic in the clinical sense, creating art is something anyone can do. There are lots of meaningful exercises art therapists have shared that you can conduct with your children. We compiled some of our favorites, and over these next few weeks we are going to explore them together.

For further reading, you can check out some of the articles below!

"Child Art Therapy: How it Works"
Cathy Malchiodi, Ph.D., LPCC, LPAT, ATR-BC, REAT

"Art Therapy: A medium to help kids deal with challenging emotions"
Suruchi Shah, Mental Health Counselor and Art-based Therapist

Art Therapy
Psychology Today

"What is art therapy, and how does it work?"
Danielle Dresden

Definition of Profession
American Art Therapy Association