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The Arts as Therapy: What are the Benefits of the Arts as Therapy?

Music, art, dance, and drama or theater have therapeutic value for people with disabilities and older adults. Also known as the arts, they can be effective in improving motor function, cognitive function, and quality of life; can encourage self-discovery and emotional growth; and can provide emotional and physical integration, along with many other benefits. According to the National Coalition of Creative Arts Therapies Associations, Inc. (NCCATA), the creative arts as therapy can make facilitate needed relaxation for people with chronic pain; help people with psychiatric disabilities explore their feelings and therapeutic issues; help decrease agitation and enhance reality orientation for people with Alzheimer’s disease; encourage self-expression, communication and socialization and facilitate cognitive retraining for people with brain injuries; and can teach cognitive, motor, and daily living skills to people with developmental disabilities.

Music Therapy

The American Music Therapy Association (AMTA) defines music therapy as “the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals.” Music therapy helps to address the physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs of each person. Modalities include creating, singing, moving to, and/or listening to music. Music therapy can provide an avenue for communication for people with communication disabilities. The AMTA provides fact sheets for music therapy with individual populations, including people with autism spectrum disorder, people with Alzheimer's Disease, and music therapy for pain management. They also provide information for parents on music therapy and the IEP.

Art Therapy

According to the American Art Therapy Association (AARTA), art therapy, as facilitated by an art therapist, is where a person uses “art media, the creative process, and the resulting art work to explore their feelings, reconcile emotional conflicts, foster self-awareness, manage behavior and addictions, develop social skills, improve reality orientation, reduce anxiety, and increase self-esteem.” AARTA provides the latest information, resources, and meaningful networking opportunities to their members. For older people with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, art therapy helps to increase focus and attention span, recalls memories, improves brain function, facilitates communication, and boosts self-esteem. According to “How Art Therapy Can Help Children” in Art Therapy Journal, art therapy can assist children with the challenges of serious diseases; childhood trauma; understand their physical or learning disabilities; improve cognitive abilities; and more. It helps them relieve stress, increase self-awareness, and develop healthy and effective coping skills.

Dance Therapy

Dance therapy, as defined by the American Dance Therapy Association (ADTA), is the “psychotherapeutic use of movement to promote emotional, social, cognitive, and physical integration of the person.” Dance or movement therapy is practiced in mental health, rehabilitation medical, educational, and forensic settings. Through their knowledge center, the ADTA provides clinical info sheets on topics such as dance therapy and Autism, Children, Eating Disorders, Parkinson’s Disease, and the Elderly; FAQs; ADTA Talks on eating disorders and dance, mental health and dance/movement therapy, and trauma and dance; the American Dance Therapy Journal; and more.  This video from ADTA highlights speakers sharing their unique clinical expertise.

Drama Therapy

The North American Drama Therapy Association (NADTA) defines drama therapy as “the intentional use of drama and/or theater processes to achieve therapeutic goals.” As an active and experiential approach, drama therapy provides a context in which people can tell their stories, express their feelings, set goals, solve problems, or achieve catharsis. Renee Emunah, PhD, RDT/BCT, Director of the Drama Therapy Program at the California Institute of Integral Studies, states, “Under the guise of play and pretend, we can – for once – act in new ways. The bit of distance from real life afforded by drama enables us to gain perspective on our real-life roles and patterns and actions, and to experiment actively with alternatives.” The NADTA provides fact sheets on drama therapy with children and adolescents, drama therapy for people with addictions, and drama therapy for the elderly; FAQs; and information on how to find a drama therapist near you.

More Information

We searched REHABDATA and found articles from the NIDILRR community and beyond on art therapy, music therapy, dance therapy, and drama therapy. If you would like to learn more, please contact NARIC’s information specialists!