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Arts and creative therapies

Explains what arts and creative therapies are, the different types that exist and how to access them.

We know lots of people find being creative really helps their mental health. In these pages, we've used 'arts and creative therapies' to describe specific treatments provided by trained professionals who have met relevant professional standards.

What are arts and creative therapies?

Arts and creative therapies are treatments which involve using arts-based activities in a therapeutic environment, with the support of a trained professional. You don't need to have done these activities before, or have any particular skills or knowledge.

Different people will have different experiences of arts and creative therapies, but they all aim to:

  • give you a safe time and place with someone who won't judge you
  • help you make sense of things and understand yourself better
  • help you resolve complicated feelings, or find ways to live with them
  • help you communicate and express yourself, which might include feelings or experiences you find hard to put into words.

Therapy sessions can take place in a one-to-one setting or a group, and are offered in a range of settings including charities such as local Minds, day centres, hospitals and therapy centres.

For more information, see our page on accessing arts and creative therapies.

"It helps quiet my mind. Concentrating on the colours, lines and shapes takes me away from the noise in my head."

How I deal with panic attacks with doodling

Mind ambassador Stuart Semple talks about how doodling, drawing and colouring in help him during his panic attacks, and how being creative helps him with his mental health generally.

How are they regulated?

It's good practice for any therapist to be a member of a relevant professional body, as this means they have signed up to meet certain professional standards. For some types of therapists this is required.

Art, drama and music therapists

Anyone who refers to themselves an art therapist, dramatherapist or music therapist must be registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). You can check if a therapist is registered using the HCPC's Check the Register service.

They must also belong to the relevant professional body:

Dance movement therapists

Dance movement therapists aren't regulated by HCPC, so aren't on their register. But it's good practice for them to belong to a relevant professional body such as the Association for Dance Movement Psychotherapy UK.

Can they treat mental health problems?

Research suggests that arts and creative therapies may help with mental health problems, but it's difficult to be sure because many studies have included fairly small numbers of people.

More research is needed to establish which problems or conditions arts and creative therapies can treat, or if particular aspects of each type of therapy are especially important in helping with mental health problems.

Some people say they find these sorts of therapies helpful because they provide ways of addressing painful feelings and difficult experiences without talking about them – which can sometimes include experiences of trauma.

Guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommend that arts therapies are considered for everyone who has psychosis or schizophrenia, which includes related conditions such as schizoaffective disorder.

You can read the full guidelines for schizophrenia and psychosis on the NICE website.

"The therapists were able to tell a lot from what you had created... and it helped open up topics for conversation or get a whirlwind of thoughts and emotions out of your head."

What if they don't work for me?

As with all treatments, different things work for different people at different times and it's not easy to predict which type of therapy you might find useful or effective.

Although some people find arts and creative therapies helpful, not everyone does. If you've tried something and it hasn't helped, try not to blame yourself. There are other options you can try.

See our pages on seeking help for a mental health problem for other options you could explore.

"It helps me when I struggle to find the words, when I'm too angry, despairing or confused to know what I think. It gives me a voice."

This information was published in November 2018. We will revise it in 2021.

References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information, see our page on permissions and licensing.

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