The main safety issue in art therapy is the possibility that it may evoke distressing thoughts or feelings. For this reason, art therapy should be used under the guidance of a qualified art therapist or other mental health professional.
A minor though possible concern in art therapy involves the use of potentially harmful materials. There have been reported cases of lead poisoning from use of lead ceramic glaze used during art therapy classes. Only materials known to be safe should be used.
Related clean-up materials (e.g., turpentine or mineral spirits) that release potentially toxic fumes should only be used with adequate ventilation.
These uses have been tested in humans or animals. Safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider.
Aging (quality of life)
Art therapy may be an effective means of improving quality of life in the elderly. There is evidence that the non-directed use of visual art (pictures) as a means of encouraging communication among elderly nursing home residents may increase well-being, happiness, peacefulness, satisfaction, and calmness. It may also reduce blood pressure and improve medical health status with regard to reported dizziness, fatigue, pain, and the use of laxatives.
Art has been effectively used as an educational tool to foster the development of empathy and other caregiver qualities in nursing students.
Art therapy may be an effective intervention for hospitalized, suicidal adolescents. There is evidence that it can be used to aid in developing a sense of identity and optimism about the future. It may also aid in relaxation and willingness to communicate, and may result in shorter hospitalization.
Transitional stress (children)
Immigrant and refugee children who are integrated into a new community and school system are at risk of emotional and behavioral problems. Some evidence suggests that a creative expression program involving art therapy may help alleviate these problems, increase self-esteem, and improve social functioning.
Alzheimer's disease (AD)
Art therapy has been used in only a few studies with AD patients, with some suggestion of benefit in alleviating negative emotions and minimizing problematic behaviors. However, further studies are needed for definitive conclusions.
Bone marrow transplant
There is some evidence suggesting that art therapy may help bone marrow transplant patients to strengthen positive feelings, alleviate distress, and clarify their existential/spiritual issues. It may be beneficial for patients who need to deal with emotional conflicts and feelings about life and death.
Limited evidence suggests that family caregivers of cancer patients may benefit from art therapy to help them cope with the stress of caregiving. Possible benefits include reduced stress, lowered anxiety, increased positive emotions, and increased positive communication with cancer patients and healthcare professionals. Art therapy may also reduce pain and other symptoms in cancer patients. More studies are needed to determine how best to use this form of intervention with this population.
Encopresis (fecal incontinence associated with psychiatric disorders): clay modeling therapy in children
It is not clear if play with modeling clay is an effective therapeutic intervention in children with constipation and encopresis. In one study, play with modeling clay was associated with improvement in five of six children, but was limited by lack of a control group.
Art therapy combined with behavior therapy may help reduce the symptoms of mental distress and improve overall health in people experiencing grief reactions.
Identity/self efficacy (adolescents)
It is unclear whether art therapy is an effective intervention to help teenagers define themselves and their life goals or improve their sense of self-efficacy. More studies are needed to explore this use of art therapy.
Art therapy may benefit children hospitalized with leukemia during and after painful procedures. One study suggests the therapy improves cooperation with treatment. Children requested art therapy again when procedures were repeated, and parents reported that children were more manageable after art therapy.
Military service-related stress
Limited evidence suggests that art therapy, in the context of group psychotherapy, may contribute to the reduction of symptoms of emotional distress in military personnel receiving mental health treatment.
Phonological disorders (children)
There is limited evidence suggesting that children with phonological disorders who receive art therapy might have improved phonological output and awareness skills, but more studies are needed to determine the meaning of these findings.
There is some evidence that art therapy combined with regular outpatient psychiatric treatment might enhance functioning of chronic psychiatric patients, at least in the short term. More studies are needed to establish this.
There is limited evidence suggesting that art therapy may aid in restoring communication in people suffering from schizophrenia, including in children. Some research suggests it may also help patients adhere to treatment more reliably. However, more studies are needed to determine the best use with this population.
Sickle cell disease (children)
There is preliminary evidence suggesting that children with sickle cell disease may have improved coping and reduced healthcare visits following art therapy. More studies are needed to verify this.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (children)
There is some evidence suggesting that art therapy may not benefit children with post-traumatic stress symptoms. More studies are needed to determine whether and how this approach may benefit children with PTSD.