How to use art for therapy. <3

Learn how I used art therapy to recover from a serious mental illness.
Hint: You don't need an art therapist.

art therapy i good for the soul

Before Art Therapy

I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2004. I went to the best specialists. All of us put a lot of effort in, but after 8 years I hadn't recovered.

In 2012 I decided to use my own kind of art therapy to get healthy, and I have maintained my recovery since.

"Unhappy person", digital, 2014 by Matt Vaillette


What I knew then

Art made me happy. 

It can be quite meditative, and relaxing. At the same time, it gives me energy too! It lifts my mood when I'm down, and keeps me centered.

Creating made me unhappy

My creative process annoyed me. Who am I kidding? It enraged me.

It was inconvenient, and painful, which prevented me from working on my artwork every day!

Behavioral Therapy + Art Therapy

I had a mild understanding of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which was ultimately combined with my creativity to form a unique type of art therapy.

I didn't really know what art therapists do at the time.


Goals for an Artistic Recovery

When I decided to use art to feel better, I laid out these main goals. Just two. I still follow them.

  • Always strive to make my art more rewarding. (Feel good)
  • Enable myself to create every day.

Accomplishing those goals

These are the main strategies, sayings, or ideas that I use to accomplish those two goals.

  1. Your art therapymust be accessible (to you)
  2. Practice art therapy daily.
  3. Constantly experiment.
  4. Make your creative process rewarding.
  5. Don't try to make great things. (you will anyways)
  6. Use your imagination.
  7. You can change your thoughts.

This was created to be given away to a stranger.

I try to emphasize to myself that the process and experience is more important than the product.


Make your art therapy accessible (to you)

Make it easy to pick up, put down, and clean up. Make it something you can afford to do every day. Make sure you have room to store your artwork & tools.

Make it easy to do art therapy, so you can use it when you need it most.

When doing art therapy, a simple pen and paper can do most of the work. It's very expressive, cheap, and usually there's no cleanup!

In general, media like pencils, pens, markers, pastels, and so on are cheap and easy to clean up. Just get some paper, and go! Try many things!

Practice art therapy daily

Do art every day for a few reasons.

  • You're looking to routinely feel better, so make it a routine!
  • If your therapy is a habit, it'll be easier to use when you're feeling sick.

In other words, don't just create when you're unhappy. Create every day.

pen & paper drawing of a person.


Experiment a lot!

If you experiment a lot, you'll be more apt to find artistic experiences that make you happy. You'll also be much more excited about art, and less likely to get bored of it.

It's in your best interest to experiment every day!

Foster a rewarding creative process

“The object isn’t to make art, it’s to be in that wonderful state which makes art inevitable.” ~Robert Henri

Experiment, and keep the stuff that feels good.

Repeat the processes that brighten your day. It is one of the many keys to being happy in art, and happy in life.

Experiment! It will make your art therapy awesome, and your creations exciting!


Don't just try to make great things

Many great artists have said that trying to create great art, is not art at all.

The truth is,

  1. the more you enjoy it,
  2. the happier you'll be,
  3. the more you'll do it,
  4. the better you'll get,
  5. the happier you'll be,

Art therapy, and enjoyment; Those are your goals. Skillfulness is a nice side effect of lots of practice, but you gain it even if it's not your goal to.

Be happy! Art therapy is more about the process, message, exploration, and the experience. It's not about the final product.


Work Spontaneously!

If you don't already, add some spontaneity to your process!

I used to plan everything. One day I decided to go at everything unplanned. By doing this, I loosened up a lot—artistically & psychologically.

I stopped being so obsessive about my it, and it became art therapy. I still care deeply about it, but I no longer care if artwork flops. Whatever. On to the next portrait!

The book "Art from Intuition", by Dean Nimmer, is a great resource for learning to trust your gut in art. It's full of great exercises, and lots of exciting art.

It played a key role in my art therapy.


Change your thoughts

For 2 years I've been exploring ideas about individuality, community, love, kindness, alienation, and so on; Things which, 3 years ago, made me grumpy.

By studying these topics using art therapy, I gained more understanding of them. I began observing people more closely in the real world, adding to my understanding.

I now feel like I have a clearer picture of people, and communities; I have a clearer view of good and bad that goes on in the world.

Using my own style of art therapy I've grown my capacity for love, matured as a person, and I am altogether happier than I was before. 

The idea of "changing my thoughts", as well as how to do so, are fundamental pillars of cognitive behavioral therapy.

"The Feeling Good Handbook" is a book about the behavioral therapy, written for consumers.

It has been proven to help various mental and physical problems.

The Feeling Good Handbook
By David D. Burns

Impact of my art therapy

Once I had my art therapy goals, and plans figured out I turned my life around in the matter of a 3-hour trial. I went from depressed and unstable, to content and stable, in a few hours.

That stability has lasted for most of the past two years.

This is about reshaping your behaviors and thoughts, using art therapy as an arena for change, and exploration!

Happiness: an artist's edge.

Doing art therapy instead of simply "doing art" made me more creative, my art more exciting, and gave me more reason to practice...leading to more skills!

Artists are people, so it helps to be happy. If your work is fulfilling, you're at the greatest advantage. You'll be happier, more inspired, and more creative