Art Therapy Shows Promise for Helping Live with Schizophrenia

Rob Wipond
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Psychodynamic art therapy shows promise in helping in-patients diagnosed with schizophrenia, according to a study by German psychiatric researchers in PLOS One.

In a randomized controlled trial involving 58 hospitalized patients diagnosed with schizophrenia who were given treatment as usual and twice-weekly art classes over 12 weeks or just treatment as usual, the researchers found that those who took the art therapy showed “a significantly greater mean reduction of positive symptoms and improved psychosocial functioning at post-treatment and follow-up” and “a greater mean reduction of negative symptoms at follow-up compared to standard treatment.”

“Of secondary outcome parameters, patients in the art therapy group showed a significant improvement in levels of emotional awareness, and particularly in their ability to reflect about others’ emotional mental states,” they added, suggesting that the “results prove the feasibility of trials on art therapy during acute psychotic episodes and justify further research to substantiate preliminary positive results regarding symptom reduction and the recovery of mentalising function.”

(Full text) A Pilot RCT of Psychodynamic Group Art Therapy for Patients in Acute Psychotic Episodes: Feasibility, Impact on Symptoms and Mentalising Capacity (Montag C et al. PLOS One. November 13, 2014. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0112348)

22 COMMENTS

    • Actually, art was the only thing that I found valid and useful to me during the two and a half months I was held in a state hospital. I was allowed to put all my painting supplies out every afternoon in the dining room and I did a number of paintings. I actually sold three of my “creations” at the art show that was held later in the year. The groups that were supposed to be “therapy” sucked pretty badly but I loved the art department and the work that they did with the people held in the “hospital.”

      • I refuse to call it art “therapy.” I just call it creating art and leave it at that. It’s something that I enjoy and get fulfillment from and it’s not therapy! Why is it that anything that we enjoy doing ends up being called “therapy.” The so-called “normasl” outside the walls of psychiatric establishments don’t have everything that they do labeled as “therapy.” If they go to the movies for entertainment it’s not referred to as “therapy” but just let a person with a history in the system go to a movie one afternoon and all of a sudden they’re doing “therapy.”

        • Great point.
          It’s basically “you know, these crazies, when they actually do something normal folks do you have to pat them on the head like kindergardners and make a speech about the therapeutic value of work/art/exercise…”.

          • Yes, I have come across that too. They seem to think that a diagnosis means that that diagnosis is the sole defining feature of the human being to whom it is attached! Suddenly, skills, interests and talents of a lifetime, intelligence, education, professional and social achievements, familial relationships are all forgotten.

            If mentioned or demonstrated in any way they provoke vigorous head patting and massive condescension, not to mention those ghastly lectures on “therapeutic value”, which are made worse when it is apparent that the doctor is totally ignorant of the topic about which (s)he is being so condescending .

          • “head patting and massive condescension”
            Which in turn makes you want to stick the broken crayon into the “good doctor’s” eye and stop doing whatever you were doing simply because they will always take credit for that (“oh see, that guy managed to put his pants on and didn’t do that back to front – our amazing therapy is working so damn well”).

  1. Art therapy during an :acute episode” as an “in-patient” can be useful but prolonged art therapy as an out patient would be even more useful. When my daughter was discharged from the hospital after an ‘acute’ episode, the social worker tried valiantly to get my daughter’s HMO to cover the services of an art therapist in the community to work with her regularly. Which was inspired because my daughter was so angry this was the only type of therapist at the time, she would have agreed to see. At that time, before five years of forced drugging had turned her into a shadow of herself, she was brimming with artistic inspiration. Unfortunately, the art therapy never materialized because these services are not ‘evidence based’ and are therefore not covered by the HMO. Her HMO was happy to pay for 1/2 dozen or more future hospitalizations lasting up to three months each to the tune of nearly one million dollars but they would not pay for a single session of art therapy in the community so she could find some meaning in her madness, gain personal agency and a modicum of self respect again which is deeply harmed when someone tells you that you have a permanent brain disease, locks you up, etc.

  2. I’m an artist, so threw paint at canvases to survive the iatrogenic hell of psychiatric “treatment” / poisoning (according to the actual medical evidence). I, personally, found such an outlet therapeutic – although painting is an activity I’ve always enjoyed (and I don’t believe any type of “therapy” should ever be forced upon another).

    But, despite the fact I was weaned off all drugs seven years ago, I still suffer from a long run drug induced “chemical imbalance in the brain.” So recently I’ve been researching sacred geometry, the geometry that all of of nature (including the human brain) is based upon, and I’m now doing paintings based upon sacred geometry. My hope is that by reminding my brain of it’s original design, I may be able to reconnect the pathways in my brain that were destroyed by the drugs.

    I’ve only been doing this for two months, so can’t say yet whether it will be beneficial in the long run. But it is an analytical and theoretically logical way to possibly approach art therapy.

    And I find it odd that the psychiatric industry doesn’t seem to realize that there is an enormous history of utilizing the mathematical sciences in the art and design industries. It’s pretty pathetic living in a society that respects the art of “mental illness” creation, more than the creation of artwork itself.

  3. I’ve had some exposure to art therapy, and I found it to be gentle and empowering. I also found that psychiatrists and other types of “therapists” often hate it because they see it as competition and don’t understand it. (It’s NOT art therapy when the cynical hospital worker passes out the basket with the broken crayons for colorin’ time; that’s laziness and insurance fraud.)

    • True, all too often “art therapy” turns out to be coloring books and broken crayons.

      Fortunately, at the state hospital where I was held and where I now work, they actually had and still have a true art department with people who teach music, drawing and painting, and dance. In fact, the person who heads the drawing and painting is a well known and well respected artist in the city where the hospital is located. For some reason, this particular hospital makes a real effort to make sure that people have access to quality paints, papers, canvases, brushes and sketching equipment. The department has a large budget. Once a year there is an art show which is open to the public where people can buy the artwork created by people in the hospital. Every penny of the sales go to the artists themselves. We do have true art therapy.

  4. I too found the only activity I could and/or would engage with in my nightmarish-involunary-forcibly-drugged hospital stay was painting. Unfortunately it was only offered twice in my time there. Cheap paints, cheaper paper and so the works have long since disintegrated, but at the time it provided both a refuge and a release in that hellish place.

    That said, I had always liked painting and it is now my primary activity .

    Opportunity and perhaps gentle encouragement, some artful and heartful intervention rather than the brutality and betrayal of forced drugging in barren and frightening psychiatric wards….and given that many people with “mental illness” score high on both artistic and sensitivity traits, it’s not surprising, really, it could help, is it?

    My only worry is that psychiatrists would come up with spurious analyses of works to argue a patient was still clearly “disturbed” and hence should be locked up longer and/or undergo further “medical intervention” .

    • Kim

      My roommate and I were “patients” on the same unit of a state hospital. He is a consummate artists and creates all kinds of things. Every once in a while he would show me a painting and then he would hide it among his portfolio of works because he was worried that if any of the staff saw these particular paintings he’d be held longer. They were “darker” works but certainly nothing that made me feel that they showed anything wrong with him. So, your worry is probably not unfounded and you’re not the only one to think this. Psychiatrists don’t understand the creation of art at all and why we paint some of the things that we do.

    • My psychiatrist declared me, as an artist / designer, to be “irrelevant to reality” and “w/o work, content, and talent” (in his medical records) … prior to seeing any of my work. After he saw my portfolio, he claimed me to be “insightful” and to have “work of smart female.”

      A big part of the problem is that psychiatrists judge people without knowing anything about them, other than, in my case, that I’d dealt with a confessed “Foul up” with Risperdal in 2002, and that ADR of a then “new wonder drug” had to be covered up at all cost!

      But I agree with Stephan, psychiatrists don’t “understand the creation of art at all.” And I think they’re afraid of those who have original thoughts and are capable of utilizing both the right (logical) and left (creative) sides of their brain. I guess if I was only capable of utilizing one side of my brain, I might be threatened by those who could utilize their entire brain, too, though.

      Although that’s just a discussion of one’s conscious mind, and I’d really like to be able to understand more of what’s going on in my subconscious mind, which seems to be what I paint. The mind is a curious thing to me – and all – still, but I’m certain chemically lobotomizing people is not the answer.

      • Someone Else

        Very good point about psychiatrists being afraid of people who can use both sides of their brain at the same time!

        It’s interesting to me that in the state hospital where I work the rule about “treatment plans” is that each plan will be based on “the strengths of the individual” that the plan is created for. This means that you have to sit down and find out some things about the person you’re dealing with. The rule is obviously not followed at all because when you read the so-called “treatment plans” of the people that you know personally who are living on the units you realize that there is absolutely nothing in their plans that are based on their strengths, likes and dislikes, or their talents and abilities. The assumption is that the people on the units do not have any strengths or talents!

        At this very moment, in the hospital where I work we have one of the most talented Chinese brush painters in America. He is American and not Chinese. His Chinese master who taught him said that he is a young man of great talent. This type of painting looks simple but is not simple at all and there are many techniques that must be mastered before you can put brush to rice paper and actually produce something that looks as it should. Did the psychiatrists know this or take it into account when doing the wonderful “treatment plan”? Absolutely not!

        They were shocked when another peer worker and I showed them the videos of this man and his work on Youtube. My fellow peer worker then stated very clearly, “Yes, believe it or not, we “patients” did have lives of importance before we got stuck in the system!” Everyone stood there with their mouths open.

        One of the other great problems that we deal with when confronted by the “treatment team” is that they believe that we all lie and nothing that we say can be trusted. We are known to always manipulate to get what we want. You can never win when dealing with treatment teams or so-called psych professionals.

        • Stephen,

          Cool story about the Chinese artist, I hope he’s escaped the system.

          “We all lie and nothing we say can be trusted,” is so true. My medical records actually state that my psychiatrist did not believe I was co-chairing an elementary school art department with 250+ volunteers while he had me on six drugs that all have major drug interaction warnings with each other.

          And, ironically, it was likely nurses who volunteered with me and / or had children I was teaching who ended up handing over my family’s medical records. And one nurse I was friends with, who did not work for any of my doctors, actually called me out of the blue and told me how disgusting the nurses in the neighborhood think some of the doctors are. So much for medical privacy, but at least they tried to save me.

          The truth be told, if one is truthful, they assume others to be also; and if one is a liar, they assume all others to be, too. And we know the psychiatric practitioners have been lying to their patients for decades.

          B,

          Excellent point on projection. My PCP was paranoid of a malpractice suit because her husband had been the “attending physician” at the “bad fix” on my broken ankle, so she projected her paranoia into my medical records, and disingenuously prescribed me psychotropic drugs.

          The idiot psychologist I went to get a second opinion from, and an explanation for the “safe smoking cessation med” / antidepressant withdrawal induced brain zaps, who misdiagnosed these as bipolar, was a manic lunatic whose actual goal was to cover up the abuse of my child for her pastor. And my psychiatrist, who didn’t believe a word I said, was claimed to “know everything about the meds,” and claimed the absolute worst ADR any antipsychotic could have was “increased thirst.” The liars claim the innocent and trusting patient is the “uncredible” one – projection problems run rampant within our medical community.