Creative art therapy for mental illness

Psychiatry Res. 2019 May:275:129-136. doi: 10.1016/j.psychres.2019.03.025. Epub 2019 Mar 16.


Creative art therapy (CAT) for severe mental illness (SMI) represents an extremely heterogenous body of literature that encompasses the use of a large variety of creative mediums (i.e. visual art, music, dance, drama, writing) in the treatment of mental disorders. The present review provides a narrative summary of the findings on the use of CAT for the selected SMI, being: schizophrenia, trauma-related disorders, major depression, and bipolar disorder. A database search of PubMed and the Cochrane Library was conducted related to the use of CAT in the treatment of mental disorders published between January 2008 and March 2019. A total of 9697 citations were identified to match the search criteria and 86 full-texts were reviewed. Although literature suggests CAT to be a potentially low-risk and high benefit intervention to minimize symptoms and maximize functioning in individuals living with SMI, the lack of methodological rigor, and inconsistency in study methods and outcome measures have prevented the advancement of CAT for use in SMI. Although creation of a single CAT regimen for all psychiatric disorders stands neither practical nor advisable, greater standardization of methods would improve evaluation of CAT interventions. Future research should elucidate biological mechanisms underlying CAT methods.

Keywords: Art therapy; Bipolar; Creative art therapy; Depression; Drama therapy; Music therapy; Psychodrama; Schizophrenia; Severe mental illness; Trauma; Writing therapy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Art Therapy / methods*
  • Bipolar Disorder / therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Schizophrenia / therapy*