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Research Supporting Art Psychotherapy

The body of evidence for the practice and efficacy of art therapy continues to grow.  


Some research highlighting the benefits of art therapy includes a case study by Kozlowsha & Hanney (2001) who found that art therapy functions as a useful exposure and desensitization tool in the treatment of young children with PTSD. They found that it allowed for expression of both declarative and non-declarative memories, not always accessible through verbal therapies.

In working with mothers of autistic children in group art therapy, Stone (1982) found that the use of art therapy facilitated communication and encouraged spontaneity and the expression of feelings not usually considered by the group as socially acceptable. The art work also helped enhance self-esteem and provided sensory stimulation and pleasure.


A case study by Durrani (2014) into the use of art therapy in facilitating attachment in children with autism found that art therapy helped engagement, gave increased pleasure in the activity and provided an environment of safety to express and assert choices. Using art, where language had been absent at the beginning of therapy, was found to have lowered anxiety and created an opportunity to connect through a communicative method other than words. The art work acted as a buffering and bridging agent for interaction between therapist and client.


Below is a summary of further research evidence from the British and American art therapy literature cited in Dr Andrea Gilroy’s book, “Art Therapy, Research & Evidence-based Practice” (2006). She provides a comprehensive overview of significant research into the efficacy of art therapy in a variety of settings and with a range of populations.



Children & Adolescents 


Art Therapy in educational and mental health settings


Outcome studies and Random Control Trials (RCT) have demonstrated positive outcomes in educational and mental health settings with the use of various art therapy approaches. Outcomes include increased ability to symbolize, reduction in severity and frequency of symptoms, alleviation of stress and facilitation of communication and interaction.




  • Ball (2002), Boronska (1995), Carr & Vandiver (2003), Case (1995, 2000, 2003, 2005), Chapman (2001), Chin (1980), Dalley (1993), Dolgin (1997), Henley (1994), Invanova (2004), Kymiss (1996), Malchiodi (1997, 1999), Meyerowitz Katz (2003), Onizo (1989), Orton (1994), Pleasant & Metcalf (1997), Pratt (1998), Prokoviev (1998), Rosal (1993) Rousseau (2003), Saunders & Saunders (2000), Stanley & Miller (1993), Tibbetts & Stone (1990), Welsby (1998), White & Allen (1971).


Art Therapy and ADHD


Outcome studies show positive changes in self-esteem, self-control and ability to function in a social environment.




  • Henley (1998. 1999), Murphy (2004), Safran (2002), Smitheman-Brown & Church (1996).      


Art Therapy and Autistic Spectrum Disorders


Outcome studies show long term and individual art therapy is effective in promoting cognitive and emotional development, enabling relationships and lessening destructive behaviors.




  • Evans (1998), Evans & Dubowski (2001), Evans & Rutten-Sarins (1998), Henley (2001), Kornreich & Schimmel (1991), McGregor (1990), Tipple (2003).              


Art Therapy and Child Sexual Abuse


Outcome studies identify effective use of art therapy with this client group enabling exploration and understanding of emotion and experience and reducing effects of trauma.




  • Brown & Latimer (2001), Buckland & Murphy (2001), Haagood (2000), Murphy (1998), O’Brien (2004), Pifalo (2002).       





Art Therapy and Abuse and Trauma 


Several outcome studies demonstrate effectiveness of short-term group and individual art therapy.

This includes a decrease in symptoms of anxiety, depression and PTSD and improvements in self- esteem.




  • Brooke (1995), Howard (1990), McClelland (1992, 1993), Morgan & Johnson (1995), Peacock (1991), Schaverien (1992, 1998), Waller (1992).


Art Therapy and Addictions


Effective in helping clients acknowledge their addictions, facilitate change and reduce isolation. Art therapy as an intervention is more tolerable to this client group than more verbal approaches.




  • Albert Puleo (1980), Dickman (1996), Francis (2003), Julliard (1995), Mahony & Waller (1992), Springham (1994, 1998, 1999).


Art Therapy and Dementia


Several outcome studies and a small RCT have shown a reduction in depression, improved attentiveness, sociability, mental acuity, physical competence and calmness.




  • Byers (1995, 1998), Falk (2002), Gregoire (1998), Doric-Henry (1997), Schexnadre (1993), Shepard (1998), Stewart (2004), Tyler (2002), Waller (2001, 2002), Weiss (1989), Wilks & Byers (1992), Yaretzky (1996), Dennes & Gilchrist (2005).                


Art Therapy and Eating disorders       


Outcome studies show art therapy is a suitable form of treatment enabling negotiation and management of emotional and psychological issues.




  • Levens (1995), Luzzao (1994), Rehavia-Hanauer (2003), Rust (1994), Schaverien (1989, 1994), Waller (1994), Wood (1996).            


Art Therapy and Learning difficulties


Outcome studies show that long term group and individual work improve behavioral difficulties and decrease feelings of helplessness; improved capacity for symbol formation and ability to complete developmental tasks.




  • Bowen & Rosal (1989), Dubowski (1984, 1990), Fox (1998), Kuczaj (1998), Lomas & Hallas (1998), Mackenzie (2000), Rees (1995), Stack (1998), Stott & Males (1984), Tipple (1992, 1993, 1994).  


Art Therapy and Offenders


Outcome studies show that art therapy can address the antecedents to crime, improve communication, increase insight, change criminogenic behaviors and decrease the likelihood of recidivism.




  • Ackerman (1992), Eisdell (2005), Gussack (2004), Haagood (1994), Liebmann (1998), Tamminen (1998), Teasdale (1995, 1997, 2002), Riches (1994) Sarra (1998).        


Art Therapy and Palliative care           


RCT and outcome studies show that group and individual art therapy enables adjustment to changes in health, body image, circumstances, behavior, improves self-esteem, quality of life and maintains identity. Outcomes also show alleviation and psychological control of pain.




  • Bell (1998), Bocking (2005), Coote (1998), Greece (2003), Hardy (2001), Luzzatto (2000, 2005), Luzzatto & Gabriel (1998, 2000), Pratt (2004), Reynolds (2002), Rockwood & Graham-Pole (1997), Sibbett (2005), Schut (1996), Theorell (1998), Waller & Sibbert (2005), Weldt (2003), Wood (1998, 2002, 2005), Zammit (2001).               


Art Therapy and Depression                


Study with group art therapy showed increased self-esteem & improved relationships.




  • Ponteri (2001).      


Art Therapy and Personality Disorders            


Studies show that art therapy can improve the management of highly charged emotional experiences including ameliorating destructive tendencies.




  • Dudley (2004), Greenwood (2000), Spring (2001), Teasdale (1995).             


Art Therapy and Psychotic and related disorders


RCT and outcome studies show improved ability to enter and maintain relationships, enable symbolization and develop mature defenses. Reduced need for mental health services and increases engagement in psychological interventions.




  • Greenwood & Layton (1987, 1991), Killick (1991, 1995, 1997, 2000), Killick & Greenwood (1995) Saotome (1998), Wood (1997, 1999).         


Additional references


  • Durrani, H. (2014). ‘Facilitating attachment in children with autism through art therapy: a case study’, Journal of Psychotherapy Integration, 24 (2): 99-108.

  • Gilroy, A. (2006) Art Therapy, „Research and Evidence-based Practice‟, London: Sage Publications.

  • Kozlowska, K. and Hanney, L. (2001) ‘An art therapy group for children traumatized by parental violence and separation, Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 6 (1): 49-78.

  • Stone, B.S. (1982). ‘Group art therapy with mothers of autistic children’, Ankho International Inc., 9: 31-48.

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