Everyday stress, family problems, traumatic experiences: We often come up against limits when we try to put our feelings, hopes and fears into words. A relatively new method, art therapy, offers the opportunity to deal with important issues in a creative way. It is a way to build self-confidence, overcome insecurity and work through inner conflicts. At the same time, it promotes concentration and awakens the imagination. Design therapy can help both adults and children work through stress and trauma. And even without the support of trained therapists, it is possible to relax after a long day with simple exercises. We give you some art therapy ideas for young and old and explain how you can implement them!
Art therapy ideas: Who is art therapy suitable for?
Art therapy is a relatively new method of creative design under the guidance of trained therapists. It combines several disciplines such as art theory, psychology and, if the patients are children, pedagogy. In therapy practice, work is done with various areas of the visual arts. These include painting , sculptural designs and photo art. Especially young children find it much easier to process their feelings in a playful way. But also adults can find inner peace when they deal with a topic. Depending on the problems the patient is struggling with, art therapy can take place only with the therapist or in groups.
In the case of mentally handicapped people, people with profound developmental disorders such as autistic people, or patients with serious illnesses such as cancer or Alzheimer’s disease, group therapy makes perfect sense. However, if the patient wants to overcome a trauma from childhood, then a session alone with the therapist is an option. In all these cases, health insurance will cover the cost of the sessions. Many people also participate in painting therapy because they want to combat self-doubt and anxiety, because they have family problems or simply because they want to develop their creativity. In these cases, the patient must cover the cost of the creative therapy themselves.
Art therapy ideas: Topics for painting therapy
Topics for painting therapy: self-perception
A large percentage of patients struggle with unspecified anxiety. Others just don’t feel worthy and have no desire for anything or anyone. There is yet another group that is trying to overcome their insecurity. Therefore, the goal of a first session is to take a close look at self-perception. The following exercise is a good way to start the topic:
For group sessions: All participants are given painting materials. The therapist asks each participant to choose someone from the group whom he or she particularly likes. Then everyone is to think of a symbol for the person they find likeable and paint it on a label. When everyone is done with the task, all the labels are placed on the floor. Then each participant looks at all the labels and tries to find one that represents his person. He then has to justify his choice to the group.
Topics for painting therapy: self-acceptance
For sessions with the art therapist only: Each participant is asked to draw a self-portrait on a piece of paper. On the left side of the face, he is asked to draw himself with only his positive qualities; on the right side of the face, only the negative qualities are drawn. Then the participant tries to merge his negative features with the positive ones. It is important to answer the following questions: “How do I see myself?”, “How do others see me?”
Art therapy ideas for stress reduction
We have already told you about the effect of a mandala drawing. However, Zentangle drawings are more often used in art therapy. They consist of free forms with recurring motifs (for example, nature motifs). The meditative drawing technique helps to reduce everyday stress and to relax. For this reason, it is also ideal for painting therapy sessions. There are two variants to choose from: Participants can either try to make a Zentangle drawing with black ink, or color a finished drawing according to their mood. There are no fixed rules, what one likes is allowed. The most important thing is that the chosen colors reflect your own mood.
Therefore, in the beginning, the black and white Zentangle drawings are distributed and everyone is allowed to color them as they wish. The therapist asks each participant how they feel today and writes their answer on a piece of paper. Then everyone has 20 minutes to color the drawing partially or completely. At the end, everyone can compare the final result with the answer at the beginning of the session. By the way, centangles are also a good way to express one’s feelings.
Art therapy ideas: Past and Future
The next art therapy ideas can help participants revise a trauma from childhood. Everyone gets a sheet of paper with two hands drawn on it. Alternatively, everyone can trace his own hands. Then he should draw on the left hand his childhood or past and on the right hand his future. At the end, each participant should answer the following questions:
- How did he feel as a child with his family? He can then write a keyword on each finger.
- How does the participant feel now when he looks at his picture?
- Does he want to change anything?
Accordingly, everyone now paints his future as he imagines it. What does he wish for? What needs does he have? Here, too, everyone is allowed to write down several words on their right hand. The picture is then put aside for 3-4 months and the participants are not allowed to look at it again. After 4 months, everyone is to draw a similar picture again and compare the results with the first one. Has something changed, has a wish come true? Or perhaps the participant has discovered that he or she subconsciously wants something quite different after all and has set other life priorities in the meantime?
Art therapy ideas: Social environment, circle of friends and relationships
A rainbow template is distributed to the participants. At home, each person is to create a collage of photos. For each person who plays a role in his or her life, he or she should cut out a photo from a magazine or newspaper and glue it on. Then he can glue a motto for each person who is important to him. At the end, the participant can glue a photo of himself. The following questions are discussed during a session:
- How does the participant feel about his environment?
- How does he see his role in his circle of friends?
- Would he change anything?
By the way, rainbow templates offer numerous design options. Even small children will certainly enjoy coloring it in. They can give free rein to their imagination and combine the colors as they wish or paint a real rainbow. This exercise has a relaxing effect, is fun and promotes the concentration of the little ones. Perfect to start with other topics for painting therapy for children!
Topics for painting therapy: Solve inner conflicts
Another topic for painting therapy is “Resolving inner conflicts”. After thinking about their relationship with family and friends, participants can draw important conclusions and formulate decisions or wishes for the future. On small stones, each person can then write down a word that best corresponds to his or her feelings. Does he want to forgive a family member, does he want more love in his life? Does he believe in himself and in his friends? Does he want to continue current relationships or would he rather end them?
Topics for painting therapy: what do you care about?
The next exercise is good for both adults and children. Young children often find it difficult to describe their own feelings. Children are often ashamed to talk to adults and find it much easier to tell stories or process trauma through play or painting. This painting exercise can help guide the therapist. Participants are given a heart template. Have participants color the heart, with each color they use representing a mood. Happy, sad, worried, scared, angry, or frustrated: Everyone can express what’s on their heart in this painterly way.
Anyone can also create the heart template themselves without much effort. Since the heart shape is so simple, even inexperienced children’s hands will manage it without any problems. The child may also decide for himself which color will stand for which mood. It doesn’t matter if the heart will be painted completely or only partially, if the children will draw shapes inside or if they will paint the shape chaotically. What matters most is that they feel comfortable doing it and that they want to discuss the picture later.
Design therapy ideas: Perceiving feelings
Many people find it difficult to perceive their own emotions in everyday life and to learn how to deal with them. The next exercise is designed to help participants better understand their own emotions. If you think that emotions are very complicated, you are wrong. Surprisingly, in our everyday life everything revolves around four emotions: joy, fear, sadness and anger. This is where the method of intuitive painting proves to be very helpful. Participants are first asked to draw a picture or symbol for each feeling. After that, they should observe two feelings every week: The first one should be familiar to the participant and the second one rather strange for him. It is worthwhile to write down every day if and when you had to deal with the two feelings and to remember the exact situation.
Furthermore, a trick helps to learn to recognize your own emotions and improve depressed mood. We explain what you should paint in these cases. It is not so much about the final result, but about how you feel.
When you are sad, paint a rainbow with watercolors
A colorful rainbow evokes positive associations. Bold colors can improve mood and the smooth transition, has a calming and relaxing effect. Design therapy can help some patients find their way out of depression. And to never lose hope, the picture can be hung on the wall.
In the photo gallery below, we also show you other examples of painting therapy. You can also do these exercises in your own home alone or with the whole family. Because design therapies can not only heal, but also inspire!
If you are worried about someone or something, fold origami boats.
If you are listless and don’t feel like doing anything, paint a landscape with watercolors
When you are disappointed and angry: Set the boundary by painting stripes
When you want to improve your ability to concentrate
When you have to make an important decision, paint waves
When bored, paint a picture with your eyes closed
When you are angry, tear up a piece of paper
When you are nostalgic, draw a maze
If you can’t articulate what you want, create a collage
If you are confused, draw a mandala
If you can’t find a way out of a difficult life situation, draw a spiral
If you cannot express your feelings, draw your face
If you are desperate and can’t find a way out, draw several paths
If you want to organize your thoughts, paint geometric figures
Expressing gratitude: template for mandala flower
Paint the flower any way you like and write down on the petals everything you are grateful for