Sometimes we practice mindfulness without even realizing it. Positive Psychology recognizes that, “At its core, mindfulness is an activity that needs to be practiced regularly and with intention.” When you make a cup of coffee and purposely give yourself five minutes of peace to drink it, you’re taking a first step toward mindfulness. When you recognize that you’re getting flustered or overwhelmed and actively focus on your breathing instead of the rushing thoughts in your head, you’re taking another step in the direction of mindfulness. What about when you practice art?
VeryWellMind recognizes that Art Therapy has been around since the 1940s but emphasizes that the relatively new Mindfulness-Based Art Therapy (MBAT) is equally necessary: “In its simplest sense, MBAT combines the benefits of mindfulness training (for example, meditation) within the structure of an art therapy framework.” Art Therapy alone consists of exploring the mind through the various art mediums. The Irish Association of Creative Art Therapists (IACAT) helps to define Art Therapy by saying, “In an art therapy session, the art therapist provides various art media such as paint, clay, collage and other materials to help the person to express and explore their emotions, develop insight and make sense of difficult life experiences.” Art Therapists are certified therapists working to help navigate the mind through art, and MBAT expands upon those techniques through the teachings as “was first formally introduced by psychologist and writer Laury Rappaport in 2009 in her book “Mindfulness and the Arts Therapies.”” Dr. Laury Rappaport has dedicated her life to MBAT and FOT (Focusing-Oriented Therapy), having worked with “a wide variety of clients—adults, teens, children, couples, families, groups, and organization—who have a range of clinical issues, including trauma, chronic and terminal illnesses, anxiety, depression, severe mental illness, and more. In addition, I work with people seeking personal growth, authenticity, and interesting in exploring the integration of spirituality with psychotherapy.” That’s an incredibly long list of people who can benefit from Mindfulness-Based Art Therapy!
So how might you benefit from MBAT? Here are three ways:
1. Increased Self-Esteem
Since MBAT is a new evolution of Art Therapy, it shares a lot of the benefits! According to IACAT, by encouraging self-expression Art Therapies help to increase self-esteem. MBAT is similar. As VeryWellMind articulates, “In essence, mindfulness-based art therapy connects the imagination to the body and allows the expression of feelings that you can’t get express in words.” The feelings associated with the catharsis of expressing then being heard and understood can help to increase self-esteem.
2. Lowers Stress Levels
MBAT helps to reduce stress through the multiple mediums of artistic expression. VeryWellMind notes, “Often, MBAT is used with individuals with physical illnesses to relieve psychological concerns, including those with coronary artery disease (CAD) and different types of cancer. For these individuals, mindfulness-based art therapy may help to lower distress levels and improve quality of life.” That’s an incredible assertion that while art cannot fully address any physical distress, it can combat the mental distress that comes along with physical ailments. In fact, a study at Thomas Jefferson University found “The MBAT group showed increases in the emotional centers of the brain including the left insula which helps us to perceive our emotions, the amygdala which helps us experience stress, the hippocampus that regulates stress responses, and the caudate nucleus that is part of our brain’s reward system. These increases correlated significantly with a lowering of stress and anxiety, as also reflected in the results of the pre and post-program anxiety scores among the MBAT intervention group.” That means MBAT helps to chemically lower the effects of stress and anxiety in the brain! Everyone could use a bit more of that.
Since there are so many art mediums available, a MBAT certified therapist can educate a patient on how to conduct Mindfulness-Based Art Therapy between therapy sessions. VeryWellMind says, “Mindfulness-based art therapy is beneficial because it can be easier to practice than attending psychotherapy appointments [in the case of self-help MBAT]. Meditation can be practiced on your own at home as can many art-based forms of mindfulness.” That makes this form of therapy incredibly accessible to a very wide spectrum of patients.
Mindfulness-Based Art Therapy is a relatively new but completely valid form of therapy. It has a long list of benefits and an even longer list of those it can benefit.