Findings presented in a dissertation indicated art therapy improved outcomes among individuals with moderate or severe depression.
“The conclusion is that the art therapy facilitated their improvement,” Christina Blomdahl, PhD, of Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, Sweden, said in a press release. “The focal point was that people felt like they were meeting themselves; that the picture served as a mirror where you could see and make new discoveries about yourself, a bit like coming to life.”
To assess efficacy of art therapy for depression, Blomdahl conducted a systematic literature review and expert survey to develop a manual-based Phenomenological Art Therapy for patients with depression. She then randomly assigned individuals with moderate or severe depression to receive 10 1-hour sessions of art therapy (n = 43) or control (n = 36). All participants received different combinations of medication, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), psychodynamic therapy and physical therapy.
Individual art therapy was administered in psychiatric or primary care facilities by a trained therapist. Each session began with a briefing and a relaxation exercise.
“They followed the manual I had created in order to ensure that it was scientific, but although everyone was given the same theme to go on, the patients responded very differently to the exercises,” Blomdahl said in the release. “The materials were simple, allowing people to doodle and feel free to express themselves the way they wanted to, and then they would talk about the picture and its significance to the participant.”
Study participants who received art therapy plus treatment as usual exhibited significant reductions in depression and higher rates of returning to work, compared with those who received only treatment as usual.
Self-esteem significantly improved, but there was no change in suicidal ideation.
“It is my hope that art therapy will be used in health care again,” Blomdahl said in the release. “Based on evidence requirements it has been more or less scrapped by psychiatry, but this is one of the largest studies that has been conducted in this area and it is a step that may lead to more people being trained in it and the method being used again.”