Art is more important for your mental health than you might imagine

Art therapy class school. Colorful man hand print on white paper. Artist hands smeared with paint. Hobby education.
Art therapy in school. (PHOTO: Getty Images)

There are many different ways to deal with mental health concerns including behavioural therapy, cognitive therapy, interpersonal therapy, psychoanalysis, supportive psychotherapy, psychodynamic psychotherapy or various types of medication.

Art therapy has proven helpful for many who find it hard to express their thoughts and emotions through words - Wendy Lim

However, another treatment is to try Art Therapy. "Art therapy is the integration of art and psychotherapy. It is rooted in the belief that creative expression can enhance an individual's mental wellbeing using creative expression to make sense of life experiences, which are often challenging and painful," explains Ms Wendy Lim, 32, an Art Therapist who works with the Singapore Association for Mental Health (SAMH) at the organisation's Creative MINDSET Hub.

"Receiving therapy does not necessarily mean that the individual is diagnosed with a mental illness. We have individuals coming forth for art therapy because they care for their mental health and recognise the importance of maintaining mental wellbeing. In addition, most have an appreciation of the art-making process," says Ms Lim.

Ms Wendy Lim. (PHOTO: Wendy Lim)
Ms Wendy Lim works as an Art Therapist at the Singapore Association for Mental Health (SAMH). (PHOTO: Wendy Lim)

"Art therapy has proven helpful for many who find it hard to express their thoughts and emotions through words. Art is a means of visual communication, which allows for further discussion and reflection. Art is also a form of expression, and through the process of expression, it can be a cathartic release for many. To engage in art therapy, no prior art skills are required as it is not focused on the aesthetics and technicalities of art but takes into consideration the process of creation, the therapeutic relationship and the individual's journey.

"The art in art therapy is understood to be an emotional encounter, to be able to hold difficult emotions and experience using form, colour, symbols and metaphors. Art allows the individual to view their circumstances from a different perspective as it invites the individual to relate symbolically, metaphorically, and visually."

SAMH has 10 centres devoted to various mental health and recovery needs; the Creative Services component focuses on using creativity like art and sports to "promote mental wellness" for everyone, no matter your mental health situation. All ages, and people from all walks of life, are able to access the various programmes.

Above view closeup of mature woman and little child shaping clay in pottery workshop for family, copy space
Shaping clay in a pottery workshop for the whole family. (PHOTO: Getty Images)

According to Ms Lim, art therapy has helped her clients deal with various mental health issues that range from a specific topic or general stress levels.

"The usage of art directives and reflective questions enable clients to reflect deeper on their own artwork and art-making processes. Art therapy is understood to be a safe space for exploration into the different life stages and experiences," Ms Lim explains.

"Client A sought art therapy to manage her anxiety, and through the art-making process and guided reflections led by the art therapist, it brought about past experiences of bullying in her earlier days in school. This allowed her to realise that the root cause of her anxiety had a strong link to her bullying experience, which affected her self-esteem. With greater clarity about the cause of her anxiety, the art therapist could provide a more targeted directive. As sessions continued, Client A developed healthy strategies to regulate her emotions and create a more positive self-identity."

The art therapy process can continue to explore how an individual can develop healthier lifestyles and coping strategies.

Girl comforts her sad friend over the phone. Woman supports female with psychological problems. Online therapy and counselling for people under stress and depression over online services. Vector
Online therapy and counselling sessions. (PHOTO: Getty Images)

Ms Lim says that Client B wanted to manage his anger: "Through the art-making process and guided reflections, Client B was made aware of how his physical body responded to anger, which impacted interpersonal relationships. With this new insight, Client B also worked on how he can better manage his interpersonal relationships."

Ms Lim manages her own mental health and general wellbeing by ensuring she does something she enjoys: "I set aside time each week to exercise as I often feel better after sweating out during my Muay Thai class. Muay Thai helps me to stay in the present as I need to focus so that I don't get hit. It enables me to regulate my emotions too. Aside from that, I will spend time catching up with my loved ones too."

Art therapy offers people a chance to take some time out of their daily life to focus on what might be affecting their mental health. The aim is to "bring an individual through their past experiences and inform them about how these can continue to impact and affect decisions making, physical health and relationships later in life", says Ms Lim.

"The art therapy process can continue to explore how an individual can develop healthier lifestyles and coping strategies."

The Singapore Association for Mental Health (SAMH) is a non-profit and non-government social service organisation that provides a comprehensive range of mental health services, including rehabilitative, outreach and creative services, to the community in Singapore. For more information, go to