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The Difference Between Art Therapy and Therapeutic Art – And the Benefits of Both

Mary Beth Flynn | 25 April, 2023

            The Difference Between Art Therapy and Therapeutic Art – And the Benefits of Both

Regardless of your age, finding a creative release through art is an effective form of self-care and an immediate boost for your mental health. The impact of drawing, painting, or sculpting is especially beneficial for older adults, whether they live in a senior living community, are at home with a caregiver or participate at their local senior center.

So, it’s no surprise that senior care experts have successfully integrated art into their therapeutic practices. However, defining how art is implemented in a mental health capacity can get a little fuzzy. There are two distinct approaches to keep in mind when considering an art program for the seniors you serve:

  • Art therapy – Art therapy is a formal discipline facilitated by a licensed and certified art therapist and personalized to each senior’s specific mental health care needs. In most cases, therapy is conducted in a one-on-one setting to help the individual “interpret, express, and resolve their emotions and thoughts,” which is particularly helpful for seniors with communication limitations. Art therapy may be part of a more complex plan of care that includes talk therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and other practices.
  • Therapeutic art – While offering many of the same benefits as art therapy, therapeutic art is focused on the enjoyment of the creative experience in the moment rather than serve as a component of one’s mental health treatment. Therapeutic art doesn’t require facilitators to complete specialized training and is often delivered in a group setting to allow for relaxation, socialization, and reminiscing.

For more than 10 years, Artfully Aging has partnered with activity and enrichment directors and staff to offer therapeutic watercolor art sessions for all skill and care levels. Every project includes “How To” instructional videos to help staff successfully lead a therapeutic art program for seniors even if they don’t consider themselves experienced artists. Simply by encouraging seniors to tap into their creativity and offering reminiscing prompts, staff can ensure they receive all the incredible benefits of hands-on art.