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Depressed Women and Art Therapy


Depression is a serious mental health issue that has become prevalent in modern society. While this condition afflicts people indiscriminately, women are more predisposed to developing depressive disorders. A report by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) estimates that one in eight women will face a major depression (1). Depression has a detrimental effect on a woman’s quality of life. It leads to poor concentration and reduces the productivity of the person.

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If left unmanaged, depression can lead to psychotic breakdowns and even suicide attempts. It is therefore important for women to seek professional assistance to manage their depression. One proposed method of dealing with depression is through art therapy. This paper will discuss how art therapy affects depressed women and the merits and demerits of using this form of therapy. The paper will also reflect on the efficacy of art therapy in dealing with depression in women.

Women and Depression

Depression is an issue of great concern for women in America. To begin with, women have a higher susceptibility to depression with the rate of depression among women being twice as high as that of men. There are a number of reasons why depression is more prevalent in women than in any other section of the population. Glasgow explains that the numerous roles that women play in society increase the probability of developing depression (28). Working mothers are prone to depressive episodes due to the combination of stress at work and life as a mother.

There is an important link between the psychological condition of women and reproductive health events. Hormonal factors lead to up to 15% of women experiencing clinical depression either during pregnancy or in the months following delivery (NAMI 1). Foster and Dorsey document that the prenatal depression experienced by most women is a psychological complication with significant ramifications for the mother and the baby (294). Treatment that helps to maintain emotional equilibrium in expectant mothers is therefore crucial for the well-being of the mother and her unborn child.

In addition to the biological and psychosocial factors that contribute to the higher rate of depression in women, genetic factors also play a role. Women who come from families where there is a history of depression are more likely to suffer from this condition (NAMI 21). In most cases, depression leads to many adverse effects on the woman. It is, therefore, crucial to seek effective treatment for this condition.

Art Therapy: A Definition

Art therapy is a relatively new type of intervention that combines psychodynamic, humanistic, educational, and other therapeutic approaches in an attempt to improve the psychological well-being of the depressed patient. Glasgow asserts that art therapy uses “artistic practices within psychological counseling or simply focuses on the act of artistic creativity as therapy in itself” (29). Bar-Sela et al. reveal that art therapy was first developed in adult psychiatric inpatient units and it was used primarily for patients in whom verbal psychotherapy would be impossible (981). However, the use of art therapy expanded over the decades as therapists sort to expand the benefits of this treatment option to more patients.

Effect of Art Therapy on Depressed Women

Art therapy begins by activating the process of creation in the client. The client is placed in an environment where she can express herself through art. The art therapist facilitates the process of creation by offering guidance to the client. After the creative process, the reflective critique stage follows. In this stage, the components of the art are interpreted and their meaning and significance is deduced (Eisdell 11). The client is supposed to talk about her artwork and what it means to her with the therapist. She should elaborate on what ideas it stimulates and how she feels about the art. An important consideration in art therapy is that the client is not required to possess any artistic ability to participate in this form of therapy.

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Art therapy can be used as a treatment for depression or to diagnose depression in the patient. When depression is suspected in a woman, art therapy can be used to detect the condition. Through art therapy, an investigation into the psychological distresses affecting the individual can be made (Hughes and Mann 613). The results of such an investigation are reviewed by the therapist to identify the presence of depressive symptoms. When used as a treatment option, art therapy seeks to bring about emotional changes in the woman. There is a joy that comes from expressing yourself through art. During art therapy, women are given the opportunity to experience this joy as they participate in the arts.

There is a relationship between depression and an individual’s level of self-esteem and confidence. Kapitan documents that individuals who have low self-esteem and confidence are more likely to suffer from depression (23). Such individuals have a hard time expressing their emotions and may end up bottling negative emotions. Art therapy is characterized by an increase in the self-esteem and confidence of the patient. This effect is desirable in depressed women since low self-esteem and lack of self-confidence contributes to the development of depression among some women.

Depression is partly caused by the failure by the individual to come to terms with her realities. This is based on the perception that depression is often linked to unresolved anger that the person keeps inside (Glasgow 29). Art therapy presents a platform through which the patient can express herself through art allowing the unconscious to surface. Through art therapy, art-based skills are used to help the person to come to terms with psychological, behavioral, and social stressors that are adversely affecting her health and well being.

Advantages of Using Art Therapy

A significant advantage of art therapy is that it helps the depressed woman to understand her own thought pattern and feelings. Hughes and Mann reveal that art therapy visibly shows the client how they are thinking and feeling thereby facilitating an acknowledgment of the issues facing the client (611). Through art therapy, the depressed woman can explore her inner world. This exploration is then visible to the therapist who can use the information provided to help the woman deal with her depression.

Art therapy has the advantage of being able to detect underlying issues that the client might be unwilling or unable to reveal through verbal therapy. Foster and Dorsey assert that art therapy makes it possible to uncover potential emotional issues with women who struggle to verbalize their concerns or feelings (301). By analyzing the drawing, it is possible to identify the client’s hidden thoughts and feelings and subsequently review them.

Art therapy helps alleviate depression among women by improving their thought process and decision making abilities. According to Glasgow, art therapy enhances the creativity of the woman and once this creativity is enhanced, her problem-solving abilities are also enhanced (29). Art has been proven to be an effective stress manager. Art therapy can produce a calming effect in the women, thereby contributing to the alleviation of the stress. The calmness brought about by art therapy reduces the somatic symptoms of depression in women.

Art therapy presents a way for women to connect with other women who might be going though the same condition. As the women engage in group art therapy, they interact with each other and get the opportunity to reconnect with the community (Glasgow 29). This is an important factor for depression causes people to withdraw and become lost in their thoughts.

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Art therapy removes the need for pharmacological solutions to deal with depression. Without art therapy, women would rely on pharmacological means to treat the depression (Foster and Dorsey 295). Most drugs prescribed for depression have many undesirable side effects. In addition to this, drugs only reduce the symptoms of depression without addressing the causes of the condition. Art therapy can help women to discover the underlying causes of their depression and tackle these issues. Such a solution is more beneficial in the long run.

Disadvantages of Art Therapy

A significant demerit of art therapy is that it might be unhelpful when the patient is committed to producing good art products. When the client’s focus is on producing quality works of art, the therapeutic aspect of this method will not be achieved. Hughes and Mann confirm that avoiding focusing on the quality of the art is integral for the efficacy of art therapy as a psychological intervention tool (612).

Art therapy is culture-specific since the client’s cultural context influences her worldview. With this consideration, the art therapist requires knowledge of art that is relevant to the client’s culture if he/she is to be of use to the client. A therapist who is not familiar with the cultural context of the patient will not be able to utilize art to alleviate depression. This lack of universality makes art therapy unattractive in a multi-cultural setting (Kapitan 40).

When used as an analysis tool, art therapy suffers from a lack of scientific evidence. Kapitan reveals that in spite of many investigations, there are no well-replicated relationships between specific drawing signs and either personality or psychopathology of the patient (40). The validity and reliability of art therapy are therefore low since the technique is susceptible to the bias of the therapist. The same drawing by a client might be open to varying interpretations by different therapists. Eisdell agrees that in art therapy, the therapist attempts to make sense of the sometimes distorted images drawn from the patient (8). The effectiveness of art therapy has therefore been lowered since most professional interpretations concerning the thought patterns and feelings of the client are made in an intuitive manner.

In spite of the fact that art therapy does not require any artistic ability in the patient, some level of creativity is required. This might deter some women from benefiting from this form of therapy. Research by Bar-Sela et al. indicates that the creativity required in the artistic process is a limitation for many patients who may naturally lack creativity (983).


Art therapy should be exploited when dealing with depressed women who have trouble communicating their issues. Art can be used to create a safe environment where the client can engage the therapist constructively. For art therapy to be beneficial to all women, it is important to engage in actions aimed at making the client comfortable with the art process. If this is not done, the client’s inhibitions regarding the art process will lead to a lack of involvement with art therapy. This involvement can be promoted by starting with trivial art works to familiarize the client with art work. This requires patience on the part of the therapist and the willingness to spend considerable amounts of time with the patient.

As noted in this paper, focus on the quality of the artwork might reduce the efficacy of art therapy as a tool to analyze or deal with depression. The art therapist should, therefore, encourage the patient to engage in spontaneous artistic expression without worrying about how well the creation looks. This can be achieved by presenting the art therapy session as a “breathing space,” during which the individual can focus away from their everyday routine and enjoy life. While engaging in art therapy, the individual expresses herself creatively in an uninhibited manner.

The efficacy of art therapy in reducing depression in women has been proven. However, its effectiveness as a tool for screening depression is yet unfounded. To cover for the inadequacies of art therapy as a screening tool for depression, other traditional verbal or written techniques for measuring depression should be used alongside art therapy.

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Considering the high risk that women have for developing depression, it would be worthwhile to seek out all methods that can be helpful for women dealing with depression. This paper has reviewed the use of art therapy by depressed women. It has noted that there are many significant benefits that depressed women can enjoy this method. Art can be a resource for restoring and maintaining mental balance in the lives of women. Art therapy should, therefore, be exploited to benefit women who are suffering from depression. This will ensure that their emotional health is restored by alleviating depression.

Works Cited

Bar-Sela, Gil, Lily Atid, Danos Sara, Gabay Naomi and Epelbaum Ron. “Art therapy improved depression and influenced fatigue levels in cancer patients on chemotherapy.” Psycho-Oncology 16.1 (2007): 980–984. Web.

Eisdell, Nicolette. “A Conversational Model of art therapy.” Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice 78.1 (2005): 1–19. Web.

Foster, Susan and Dorsey Alvin. “The use of the human figure drawing with pregnant women.” Journal of Reproductive and Infant Psychology 21.4 (2003): 293–307. Web.

Glasgow, Brown. “Dancing through Depression.” Herizons Summer 54.1(2006): 28-32. Web.

Hughes, Edward and Mann Alicia. “A pilot study assessing art therapy as a mental health intervention for subfertile women.” Hum. Reprod 26.3 (2011): 611-615. Web.

Kapitan, Lynn. Introduction to Art Therapy Research. NY: Taylor & Francis, 2010. Print.

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Women and Depression Fact Sheet. 2009. Web.

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