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Art Therapy for Anxiety

Treating Panic Disorder with Art Therapy


Updated July 03, 2014

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Art therapy can be used to treat anxiety and panic disorder.

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Panic disorder is a type of anxiety disorder that is characterized by persistent and frequently unexpected panic attacks. These attacks are marked by a mix of physical and cognitive symptoms, such as sweating, shaking, shortness of breath, and fearful thoughts.

Fearful perceptions about panic attacks can become so severe that the panic sufferer develops avoidance behaviors. This describes a separate and commonly co-occurring condition known as agoraphobia, which involves steering clear of situations or events in which the person is afraid to have a panic attack.

Fortunately, panic disorder is both a diagnosable and treatable condition. There are numerous treatment options available for panic sufferers, such as psychotherapy. When considering therapy, most people envision traditional “talk therapy” in which the qualified professional and client meet to discuss symptoms and develop goals. However, did you know that artistic endeavors could also offer a form of therapeutic healing? The following describes art therapy and how it can be helpful in treating panic disorder.

What is Art Therapy?

Art therapy involves the use of art methods to promote health and wellness. The American Art Therapy Association defines art therapy as “a mental health profession that uses the creative process of art making to improve and enhance the physical, mental and emotional well-being of individuals of all ages. It is based on the belief that the creative process involved in artistic self-expression helps people to resolve conflicts and problems, develop interpersonal skills, manage behavior, reduce stress, increase self-esteem, self-awareness, and achieve insight.”

The use of art therapy for mental health purposes originated during the 1950s, when it was found that art-making could assist in healing and coping with symptoms. During the art therapy process, a trained specialist guides the client’s experience through the use of counseling techniques and different types of artistic expressions. Common art mediums used within the art therapy process include painting, drawing, sculpture, collage, and photography.

Art therapy does not require that a person have artistic experience or talent. Rather, a person should expect to experience self-exploration and growth through the creative process. Art therapy can be used in conjunction with traditional individual therapy, group therapy, marriage and family therapy (MFT), and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques.

How Can Art Therapy Help with Panic and Anxiety?

Art therapy provides a way to gain insight and understanding though self expression. The fears and other emotions that often accompany panic disorder can be hard to express through words alone, and the creative process of art therapy can help a person tap into and express deep feelings. Art therapy can be used with people who have anxiety and panic disorder to assist in:
  • Reducing stress
  • Building problem-solving skills
  • Improving self-esteem
  • Managing anxiety
  • Resolving inner turmoil and conflicts
  • Relaxing and calming nerves
  • Expressing feelings and experiences
  • Developing ways to cope
  • Working towards wellbeing
  • Staying motivated during the recovery process

Getting Started in Art Therapy

Engaging in creative endeavors on your own may be a great way to combat stress and practice self-care. But to get started in art therapy, you will need a qualified art therapist to help you in the healing process. Qualified art therapists are usually available in a variety of settings, including community agencies, private practices, hospitals, and clinics.

It is important when seeking out an art therapist that he or she has additional experience working with people with panic disorder. Your current doctor or therapist may be able to refer you to a licensed art therapist. You can also check out the Art Therapy Credentials Board online directory where you can find a listing of available art therapists in your area.


American Art Therapy Association. What is Art Therapy. Retrieved on January 19, 2013.

Malchiodi, C. (2007). Art Therapy Sourcebook. New York: McGraw-Hill.

McNiff, S. (2004). Art Heals: How Creativity Cures the Soul. Boston: Shambhala.

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