I read the whole Wikipedia article. But I still have doubts. Is art therapy effective? If so, in which ways has it been studied?
Slayton, D'Archer, and Kaplan (2010) review 35 studies conducted from 1999-2007 about the efficacy of Art Therapy. Their review covers a variety of quantitative designs, as well as a few qualitative approaches.
There are some serious limitations to the research that they reviewed. There is little consensus about appropriate control groups, some studies rely heavily on anecdotal data (taking the form of a case-study more than an empirical investigation), and different studies use very different ways of measuring outcomes. The authors acknowledge these limitations in their discussion.
They do, however, find that "a small body of studies now exists in which art therapy as a treatment modality has been isolated, measured, and shown to be statistically significant in improving a variety of symptoms for a variety of people with different ages. The range of participants represented in our survey of studies was broad; it included young children, elders, and all ages in between. A range of treatment settings also was represented, including schools, outpatient clinics, day treatment centers, residential homes and treatment centers, hospitals, correctional facilities, and nonclinical settings." (pg. 115).
These studies typically focus on a very narrow set of behaviors or symptoms, and thus it's not clear if there is a general pattern indicating in what situations art therapy is effective.
Hey, Alexandro. Nice to see you over here :-)
As far as I know, there are only single-case studies showing the application of art therapy, but its efficacy for psychotherapy has not yet been the subject of an empirical study.
One reason for this is that creativity and creative processes are as yet not well understood by psychology, and that measuring them is therefore impossible (and measurement is a prerequisite for empirical studies). It is not enough to let the treatment group paint some paintings and let the control group not paint paintings, because we do not understand what the difference is. A person not painting a painting could be creative in some other way (e.g. daydreaming), or if the painting affects the disorder it could be caused not by the painting but by having something to do. And so on.
In institutionalised contexts such as psychiatric institutions or clinical psychological research instiutes, art therapy is not percieved and applied as an alternative to, for example, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or Psychoanalysis. Art theray is not seen as a form of psychotherapy, but either as a module or method to be used within psychotherapy (similar to other modules such as psychoeducation, skills acquisition, or the interpretation of dreams), or one of the psycho-social recreational activities offered in the institutional context, on a par with sports or excursions. For example, in the psychatric ward in my university, patients can go rock climbing, (learn to) play instruments – or draw, paint, and sculpt.