Can art therapy help mental illness?

Being referred to art therapy may not prove beneficial for schizophrenia sufferers. This is the suggestion of new research published on bmj.com, which calls in to question national treatment guidelines that recommend such treatment could improve the mental health or social functioning of these patients.

Investigators from the UK found no differences in mental health symptoms between a number of different activity groups.

The authors noted that although they cannot rule out the possibility that art therapy might prove advantageous for a minority of individuals who are highly motivated to take part in and stick to the programme, "we did not find evidence that it leads to improved patient outcomes when offered to most people with schizophrenia".

Despite the findings, the researchers noted other forms of treatment - such as music and body movement therapy - might still prove beneficial in this field, with the combination of these activities with other interventions likely to show promise. 

Dr Victoria Tischler from Queen's Medical Centre, Nottingham, is a Chartered Psychologist, commented: "The results from this study concur with others which indicate that art therapy and arts interventions more broadly have limited impact.

"This study focused on clinical benefits and I'd suggest that the lack of impact found may be related to the outcomes investigated and the use of standardised scales to measure these.

"The impacts of arts interventions are notoriously difficult to measure using a quantitative, positivist approach.

"Small scale studies and anecdotal evidence support the psychosocial benefits of engagement with art for those with mental health problems e.g. confidence building, improvements in communication and addressing exclusion through social networking.

"More studies are needed with larger number of participants but examining broader outcomes and utilising a wider range of mixed methods to measure these."

share