June 19, 2023

Art Therapy: A Complete Guide for AI, Digital, and Traditional Creatives/Artists (2023)

In this article, you will learn everything you need to know about art therapy, including the exact steps to get started. You will also discover the benefits and potential drawbacks of art therapy.

Art Therapy: A Complete Guide for AI, Digital, and Traditional Creatives/Artists (2023)

People who tend to overthink things or are overcome with negative emotions often need a creative outlet. In the age of overstimulation, more people need to create instead of consume. Art therapy solves that problem. Depending on how much you're struggling to maintain a clear mind and be in the moment, you might need casual self-initiated art therapy or professional therapist-guided art therapy.x

Professional art therapy is different from self-initiated therapeutic use of art. In both cases, the person engaging in art therapy feels calmer, happier, and better because of the therapeutic effect of the creative process.

Art Therapy: A Brief Overview

Art therapy refers to the therapeutic use of the arts. It is a psychotherapeutic discipline that helps people heal and get better with the help of creative self-expression. One of the most commonly used forms of art therapy is abstract self-expression on a canvas.

Splatter paintings pour paintings, and even pattern designs have a therapeutic effect. While acrylics and canvas are common in art therapy, there are plenty of other forms that art therapy can take.

Text-to-image art creation is a pretty recent entry in the category. Many artists have reported that typing out their emotions as text prompts (almost like poetry) and watching them turn into visual images can make them feel better.

Any artistic process that can help an individual get out of their head and away from their negative thoughts is great for art therapy. Usually, processes in which the artist doesn't have much control may help the artist let go of things. The process of an art form selected for therapeutic reasons is contingent on what one is trying to accomplish.

There are broadly two types of processes in art therapy: ones with low stakes (like coloring and repetitive patterns) and ones with a low-effort process (like pour painting). The former help people feel accomplished without the fear of failure, while the latter lets them get lost in the process. For instance, the results don't really matter much in an abstract pour, so the process feels free.

AI art therapy hybridizes journaling, a flow-inducing process, and stakes-free creation. It allows people to articulate their thoughts without the need for structure or sense and still get something beautiful on the other end. Having established the key types of processes and media used for art therapy, we can dive into the benefits of art therapy.

Benefits Of Art Therapy

Art therapy can broadly help people get lost in the flow. But the specific reasons people use art and art therapy go beyond getting out of their heads. So, let's start with the tangible advantages of art therapy.

Dissipating Anger

Anger and resentment can manifest themselves in destructive ways when unleashed onto the world. But art therapy creates a consequence-free space to express one's anger. Splatter paintings are the most common mediums used to express anger safely.

Conquering Fear

Some people are afraid to try new things. For them, it is ideal to take up any art form that they have no experience in. By trying a new process, they can learn that exploring alternatives and creating things is not as hard as they might assume.

Confronting Anxiety

An aspect of confronting fear is overcoming anxiety. Where fear is a mountain, anxiety is a series of ever-present molehills. Low-stakes artistic processes like tracing and coloring can help people overcome an anxious state. Any process that is repetitive and can be executed on autopilot can have a meditative effect.

Relieving Stress

An anxiety-free mind is a stress-free mind. When one's job or life routine is stressful, consequence-free art practice can help one release stress. Again, the meditative art processes like repetitive doodling and writing long AI art prompts can help one take a break.

Only when an individual clears their mind and is free from stress and negative thinking can they truly know themselves. For overthinkers and the perpetually stressed, art therapy is crucial to self-discovery.

Tackling Loneliness

While collective art therapy can help couples spend stress-free time together, those who don't have a partner or friends can connect with others online via a creative community. Realm AI users find the app helpful in translating their thoughts and ideas into images that they can share with friends.

More importantly, many users find the process therapeutic because the app allows them to share their ideas with other creatives regardless of who is in their network. Even in traditional art, you don't need friends to get started. You can spend time creating art instead of feeling lonely. And once you finish a piece, you can share it with other aspiring artists.

Overcoming Sorrow

Sometimes art can be a great vehicle for processing trauma and overcoming sorrow. If you create art that expresses your sorrow, you're turning your "mess" into your "message." Giving meaning to your pain by making art out of it is an effective way to cope with it and move on.

Inspiring Self-Reflection

Self-image is the most powerful contributor to success. What you envision is what you become. Put more precisely, what you think is your limit becomes your limit. Art therapy can help you see yourself as a creative individual.

When you create something, you get a boost in your self-esteem. And the process itself can be reflective. While pour paintings and splatters may not make room for reflection, poetry, and AI art do. Text is one of the best forms of self-reflection, and AI art makes it easy for individuals to turn their thoughts into a series of paintings.

Learning Empathy

Art and creativity help break barriers. People who are too rigid in their thinking and judgemental in their demeanor might learn to empathize with others by tapping into their creative side. With collage art and other experimental techniques, they can learn to accept diverse viewpoints and may connect with people on a more human level.

Gaining Inspiration

Inspiration strikes when you show up, according to Steven Pressfield, the author of The War of Art, one of the most popular books on creative projects. Art therapy can help people access creative sparks that can help them in other aspects of their lives.

Creating Energy

Some people are energized after they finish something. Completion gives them the momentum and motivation to start something fresh. Art that is quick to create can help them get that sense of accomplishment. By using AI, stamping, and other quick art-making methods, people can access a quick hit of dopamine associated with creation and completion. It might just be what they need.

Finding Hope

Many people like to paint positive and optimistic visions that can help them get out of a negative place. Previously, this kind of art therapy was available to only a handful of technically skilled individuals. But with the emergence of generative AI, it is possible for people to create positive visual images with simple descriptions.

Embracing Happiness

Creating art that is accepted by others can give an individual the social approval they need to perhaps accept themselves. Embracing yourself and accepting happiness can be hard for some people. But art therapy can make it easier for them to accept their own creations and, consequently themselves.

That said, most art therapy isn't about approval-seeking. Most people find freedom and happiness in their creative processes.

Drawbacks Of Art Therapy

Everything that has advantages can also have disadvantages. While art therapy is no exception to this rule, it has very few drawbacks. Most of them revolve around over us and overreliance. In the absence of either, art therapy is fairly harmless.


Art therapy can help people escape their problems, but some must be dealt with. When art therapy is used excessively as an escape, it can have a potentially devastating impact on one's normal life.

Just like playing video games for hours on end is a bad idea, spending entire days making art isn't exactly healthy either. Please note that over-reliance is very rare in art therapy.

Anxiety And Stress

If one adopts the wrong method of art therapy, one will feel more anxious and stressed. For instance, an individual who feels at peace with order and organization may respond negatively to pouring and splattering paint.

The same individual would love working with collage material and mixed media arts. That's why you should choose yourself and the art process that suits you best.

Emotional Outbursts

Sometimes, art therapy can bring to the surface emotions that a person has suppressed for a long time. Sudden confrontations with these emotions may not always go as planned. In such cases, one should work with an art therapist for guided sessions instead of trying to DIY their art therapy.

Issues With Coping Post-Termination

If one gets formal art therapy, then one must continue the process for as long as it is prescribed. Sudden termination can lead to serious coping problems. That, however, doesn't apply to the average individual who makes art to take a break or to feel better. Still, it is a technical drawback of art therapy.

Getting Started With Art Therapy

Getting started with art therapy can be as simple as picking an art therapist and taking their lead. But not everyone needs professional art therapy, and many people can't afford to hire an art therapist.

Fortunately, the therapeutic nature of making art doesn't vanish in the absence of a therapist. If you have mild stress, anxiety, and self-esteem issues, then you can pick the right art-making process and start your therapeutic art journey. In this section, you'll learn the steps that can help you do exactly that.

Step One - Pick Your Goal

The first step in starting art therapy is realizing that not all art therapy is the same. Knowing what you want out of art therapy can help you pick the right kind of therapy for you.

For instance, if you want to use art therapy for self-reflection, then you cannot choose an art-making process that is relatively mindless and rote. And if you want to use art therapy to take a break from overthinking, then you cannot choose a thoughtful art form.

Some people want to experiment in a low-stakes environment. For that, the art form shouldn't use expensive materials. After all, expensive art materials can make the artist conscious. Self-compassion is yet another goal of art therapy that doesn't complement art forms with expensive materials.

Every mistake can lead to more self-rebuke if the materials are expensive. So, you have to figure out one or more things that you want to get out of art therapy. Only after that can you process to the next step.

Step Two - Understand Your Flow

Understanding your own flow is the next step of art therapy. If you want peace, then what kind of process will help you access it? If you want to express your anger safely, then what activity is most likely to be the safest outlet?

There are three ways to figure out your flow. One is to try different things until you find what's most fun, soothing, and helpful. Another is to look at what you enjoy in your life. What you enjoy is usually a great indicator of what aligns with your flow.

The final way to figure out your flow is to hire an art therapist to guide you. An art therapist can introduce you to different forms of art-making that are in perfect alignment with your needs.

Art therapists also know the extent to which you must indulge yourself in art therapy. That's why it is important to get professional guidance if you need formal art therapy. Again, you can resort to enjoyable art-making in your spare time if your mental health condition isn't serious.

Your flow will determine whether you need casual art therapy or professional art therapy. If you find it easy to get into a state of flow during activities that take your mind off of trauma, tragedy, and negative self-talk, then you can rely on casual art therapy.

But if you need professional help regarding your mental health, then you must work with a therapist, if not an art therapist. Whether you work alone or with a therapist, the next step of your art therapy journey will be the same.

Step Three - Eliminate Distractions

You cannot engage in art therapy when you're submerged in distractions. So, you usually need to go offline or at least turn off your notifications. Being online during art therapy makes sense only if you're relying on generative AI (like Realm) for creative expression.

Even then, you should keep other apps from distracting you. Customizing your focus in the "Do Not Disturb" settings of your iPhone will help with this.

Eliminating distractions will help you go deeper into your art-making process. You'll express yourself more authentically and forget about your worries and anxieties for a longer period. The more regularly you engage with your art practice, the better you'll get at tuning out distractions.

Self-discovery won't knock on your door while you're busy entertaining notifications. Sometimes art therapy's greatest utility is that it gives you a much-needed break from all the notifications coming your way.

If you feel like you're blocked creatively, you might want to instinctively check other social media. Social media platforms are filled with non-artistic distractions. If you're looking for inspiration, you can either find it offline, or you can get into a thought-free art process.

When using artificial intelligence for your therapeutic art creation, limit yourself to platforms that are exclusive to the arts. These include DeviantArt, Realm, and Artstation.

A distraction-free work environment can help you commit to your art. Once you have eliminated the most lucrative distractions from your surroundings, you can move on to the next step.

Step Four - Begin Your Process

Beginning your process is the next stage in art therapy. At this stage, you have to take the first step in executing the method of art-making you've set for yourself. If you want to make pour paintings, it is time to start pouring. If you want to use AI, it is time to download the Realm app and start typing out your thoughts and feelings.

Getting intentional about execution can help you overcome procrastination and get out of your own head regarding the end product. Don't think about how the art will turn out, narrow your focus on starting the process.

Remember, art therapy is meant to help you relax and express yourself without the fear of failure. And that is not possible if you keep thinking about the end result. By getting lost in the process, you can give your mind a break.

When you are so focused on the first step, whether it is mixing acrylics or typing out a prompt, you'll be too engaged in the practice to entertain anxious thoughts. The goal is to reach that level of distraction-free engagement.

Don't try to force the depth of engagement. That will only put you back into your head. The key is to execute more than you think. From the point where you decide to surrender yourself to the process, the natural therapeutic aspects of creating art will take over.

There is only one hurdle in surrendering yourself to the process: self-judgment. People who have self-esteem issues and those who struggle with negative thoughts can find themselves judging their progress and performance at every step.

Step Five - Withhold Judgment

Self-judgment can create a negative feedback spiral where you can keep beating yourself up because you notice that you're beating yourself up. When you start out in your art therapy journey, you must disengage with judgemental thoughts instead of judging them. You might catch yourself reflexively judging yourself. Even if that's the case, don't be harsh on yourself. Focus back on the art and continue.

What Type Of Art Should I Select For My Art Therapy?

Any type of art that is easy enough to give you a sense of progress but challenging enough to distract you from your routine worries is perfect for art therapy. Art types to consider include coloring, zen doodling, collage, paint pours, and generative AI.

Here's what different types of art bring to the table:

  • Acrylic pouring - This is a visually soothing process that can help you calm yourself. You don't control most of the results, so you can use acrylic pouring to learn to let go and trust the process. To avoid financial anxiety, avoid choosing to pour paintings if you can't afford the materials.
  • Abstract painting - Paint splatters, vigorous scribbling, and other aspects of abstract painting can provide a safe release for anger and other negative emotions. Abstract painting can also help express intangible thoughts and ideas.
  • Collage - Collage is an organizational art form that forces you to make something out of preexisting content. If you like to put things together, then you will find collage-making therapeutic. It is also a low-cost process that has low financial stakes.
  • Coloring - Coloring is an artistic process where you can let go of active thinking. If you're an overthinker, then coloring will help you take a break from an overactive mind. You can use digital painting or paper as your medium for coloring.
  • Comfort whittling - Wood whittling can be challenging, but specific whittling projects like the comfort bird are pretty easy. The easier whittling projects can have a comforting effect, which is why this category of wood carving is called comfort whittling. The only downside of this process is that comfort whittle kits can be expensive.
  • AI Art - Text prompts don't have to be technically descriptive when you're making art as a therapeutic outlet. You can journal in the prompt field and express your emotions, then let AI turn them into a visual image. To keep the stakes low, use an app like Realm that gives free credits.
  • Crochet - Simple crochet projects are repetitive, allowing you to take a break from focusing and thinking. Such autopilot processes have the same soothing effect as a long drive on an empty road.
  • Polka dots - Yayoi Kasuma used polka dots to cope with trauma. Her story has inspired more people to take up polka-dot painting for therapeutic reasons. The dots create a sense of infinity, and their repetitive nature allows you to give your mind a break.
  • Zen doodles - Zen doodling has become pretty popular because of its ease and accessibility. Zen doodles are patterns that can make stunning visual art with enough repetition. Like crochet chains and polka dots, zen doodles can induce a state of flow.
  • Poetry - Poetry is the most reflective art form and can have a cathartic effect. It is not common in art therapy but can be taken up for therapeutic reasons. It doesn't require expensive materials and can help you explore your deepest feelings.

Final Thoughts

Art therapy gives you an outlet for your emotions and a break from overthinking and stress. It creates a space in which you can recover from the mental burdens of your routine. Engaging in casual art therapy is advisable for anyone with mild anxiety and stress. For those who have serious mental health issues, guided art therapy is a better fit. Regardless of whether you hire an art therapist or create art on your own to ease your mind, make sure to pick a medium and a process that suits you. Paint pours can be calming, while splatters can help you release your anger. Generative AI like Realm can help you journal your emotions and watch them turn into stunning visual images.