Can Mindfulness-Based Art Therapy Reduce Symptoms of Anxiety in Children?

March 22, 2024

Art and therapy are two fields you may not often think of together. However, for many mental health professionals, they are an ideal combination. Therapists and scholars have used various forms of art as part of their interventions, targeting a range of mental health problems. One area receiving significant attention is the use of art therapy for children with anxiety. This article will examine the potential benefits of Mindfulness-Based Art Therapy (MBAT) in reducing symptoms of anxiety in children.

The Intersection of Art, Therapy, and Anxiety in Children

Children, just like adults, can experience anxiety. According to data from various studies, about 7% of children aged 3-17 years have diagnosed anxiety. It’s crucial to take action, as untreated anxiety can lead to more severe mental health problems later in life. However, it’s not always easy to convince children to open up about their feelings in traditional talk therapy. Enter art therapy.

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Art therapy uses the process of creating art to improve mental, physical, and emotional well-being. The idea is that children can express themselves more freely through art. They can illustrate their feelings, thoughts, and experiences that are difficult to verbalize. Moreover, the process can also serve as a coping mechanism, a way to relax and reduce stress, contributing to overall mental health.

Mindfulness, on the other hand, is a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. When combined with art therapy, mindfulness can potentially help children deal with their anxiety in a more constructive way.

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The Emergence of Mindfulness-Based Art Therapy (MBAT)

Mindfulness-Based Art Therapy (MBAT) is a relatively new intervention that combines the advantages of art therapy with the benefits of mindfulness techniques. MBAT aims to help patients become more present and aware of their thoughts, feelings, and sensations during the process of creating art.

According to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology, MBAT has shown promise in reducing symptoms of anxiety in adults. But can it have the same effects in children? Some scholars and therapists believe so.

In MBAT sessions, a therapist guides children to engage in art-making while maintaining a mindful state. It can be drawing, painting, sculpting, or any other form of art. The focus is not on the final product but on the process. The child is encouraged to pay full attention to each brush stroke, the feeling of the paint on the paper, the colors, the movements, and so forth.

Studies Supporting the Efficacy of MBAT

However, it’s not enough to just believe in the potential of MBAT. As therapists and scholars, you require empirical evidence to support its efficacy. Fortunately, preliminary studies have shown promising results.

One study published in the Journal of the American Art Therapy Association explored the impact of MBAT on adolescents with anxiety and found a significant reduction in their symptoms. Meanwhile, a Google Scholar search reveals numerous dissertations and theses that also support the use of MBAT in reducing childhood anxiety.

While the research pool is still relatively small, the data is encouraging. It suggests that MBAT can be a valuable tool for therapists working with anxious children.

Implementing MBAT in Group Settings

An added advantage of MBAT is that it is flexible and can be implemented in various settings. One effective method is through group therapy. A group setting allows children to feel less isolated, as they see others their age participating in the same activity.

In a group MBAT session, the therapist might start with a mindfulness exercise such as a body scan or breathing exercise. Then, the art-making begins. The therapist might suggest a theme or leave it open. The goal is to keep the children engaged in the present moment, focusing on their art and their emotional responses.

Throughout the process, the therapist observes and, at times, guides the children in their mindfulness practices. They may draw attention to the feelings in their hands as they mold the clay, the sounds of the pencils on the paper, or their internal responses to the art-making process.

While this article cannot provide a comprehensive review of all research on MBAT for childhood anxiety, the existing studies provide a solid foundation. As therapists, scholars, and mental health advocates, you can confidently say that MBAT holds promise as an intervention to reduce symptoms of anxiety in children. However, more research is necessary to establish best practices and maximize the benefits of this innovative therapeutic approach. After all, every child deserves the best possible support in their journey towards mental health and well-being.

The Role of Therapist Behavior in MBAT

A critical part of Mindfulness-Based Art Therapy (MBAT) is the role of the therapist. The therapist guides the child in maintaining a state of mindfulness during art creation, but how they do so can have a significant impact on the therapy’s effectiveness.

In an MBAT session, the therapist must provide a safe and non-judgmental space for children to explore their feelings and thoughts. They should encourage the child to focus on the present moment, guiding them to pay attention to every detail of their art-making process. For instance, they might draw attention to the feeling of the brush against the canvas, the smell of the paint, or the sound of the pencil scratching on the paper.

Moreover, it is crucial that the therapist validates and acknowledges the child’s feelings and experiences. For instance, if a child expresses fear while drawing, the therapist should recognize this fear, help the child to sit with it, and guide them to mindfully explore its source and impact.

In studies analyzing MBAT’s effects on children with psychosocial problems, therapists’ behavior has been a significant factor. A Google Scholar search reveals multiple studies corroborating this. One pre-posttest study highlighted that therapist behavior that encourages mindfulness and validates children’s experiences significantly enhances the effectiveness of MBAT.

However, ensuring that therapists are adequately trained to conduct MBAT is essential. Understanding mindfulness principles, the therapeutic use of art, and how to best guide children through this process are key skills needed for this specialized therapy.

Conclusion: The Future of MBAT in Children’s Mental Health

Exploration into the efficacy of Mindfulness-Based Art Therapy (MBAT) is still in its early stages, but the preliminary findings are promising. Studies suggest that MBAT can offer an effective means to help children with anxiety express their fears and worries in a non-threatening and validating environment.

While the current pool of research is relatively small, the promising results from these initial studies suggest that MBAT could become a significant tool in children’s mental health. However, more research is needed to establish control group studies, explore the mechanisms of change, and identify best practices for implementing MBAT.

For example, future research could delve deeper into how different forms of expression in art therapy, such as drawing versus sculpting, impact mindfulness and anxiety reduction. Additionally, more research could explore the impact of therapist behavior and the most effective ways to guide children through the MBAT process.

It is essential to remember that the ultimate goal is to offer the best possible support to children facing mental health challenges. Mindfulness Based Art Therapy provides a potentially effective and innovative approach, helping children express their thoughts and feelings while teaching valuable stress reduction techniques. With continued research and focus on best practices, MBAT could significantly enhance and transform children’s mental health care.