Pairing CBT and Art Therapy
By Elise McCarter, MS, ATR-P
Cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT, as it is often referred to for short, is an evidence-based type of therapy. CBT focuses on a client’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and how these three elements work together to influence one another in the here and now (Slee,2007). CBT is frequently used to treat anxiety and depression, however, it also is useful for other mental and physical health problems. Research studies have displayed that the skills clients receive using CBT can last long after their treatment has concluded (Patterson). CBT is widely practiced in traditional talk therapy however it has also been shown to be useful when utilized in combination with art therapy.
As briefly touched upon, there are a few CBT models, and each model is designed to treat a specific disorder such as depression, anxiety/panic, and eating disorders (Clark, 2017). However, often when people think of CBT they think of cognitive restructuring. Cognitive restructuring emphasizes the therapist’s role in helping the client identify their negative thought patterns.
Once these have been identified, the therapist utilizes the therapeutic alliance to help the client work overtime to practice and modify these negative patterns into more positive and often more “accurate” ones; in addition to directly addressing these patterns, the therapist and client work to develop a wider range of coping skills and techniques to relieve stress, such as deep breathing and positive self-talk (Patterson, 2009). This approach can also be implemented using art, since art therapy allows the client the opportunity to express themselves without the use of words.
Mindfulness is another tool that therapists have begun to incorporate into the CBT approach. Studies have shown that pairing mindfulness and CBT in the treatment of depression can help to decrease clients’ relapse rates (Rubin. 33). It has also been shown that making art can enrich a client’s personal problem-solving capabilities. Many art therapists believe that art therapy and CBT are the perfect pairings because artmaking is a cognitive process that uses thinking, sensing, and identifying emotions (Clark, 2017). When the client creates art in art therapy, they receive instant gratification; they are no longer just the client, they are an artist. A positive reaction in art therapy will reinforce positive behavior outside of the art therapy room.
About the Author:
Elise McCarter, MS, ATR-P is a therapist at Marvelous Minds in Glen Ellyn, IL. If you would like more information on CBT or art therapy, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Marvelous Minds today.
Clark, S. M. (2017). Debt-informed art therapy: mindfulness, cognitive behavior therapy, and the creative process. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
Patterson, M. (2009, CBT in practice: Part science, part art. Visions: BC’s Mental Health and Substance use Journal, 6, 6. Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.mmu.ezproxy.switchinc.org/magazines/cbt-practice-part-science-art/docview/2231805020/se-2?accountid=9431
Rubin, J. (2001). Discovery, insight, and art therapy. In J. A. Rubin (Ed.), Approaches to art therapy: Theory and techniques. Brunner-Rougledge: New York
Slee, N., Arensman, E., Garnefski, N., & Spinhoven, P. (2007). Cognitive-behavioral therapy for deliberate self-harm. Crisis: The Journal of Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention, 28(4), 175-182. doi:http://dx.doi.org.mmu.ezproxy.switchinc.org/10.1027/0227-5910.28.4.175