You have probably heard of both mindfulness and art therapy—but have you heard of mindfulness-based art therapy (MBAT)? This relatively new concept was first formally introduced by psychologist and writer Laury Rappaport in 2009 in her book "Mindfulness and the Arts Therapies." In its simplest sense, MBAT combines the benefits of mindfulness training (for example, meditation) within the structure of an art therapy framework.
Definition of MBAT
There are several components that are involved in creating the concept of mindfulness-based art therapy.
The concept of mindfulness originated from Buddhist practice and reflects a focus on awareness of emotions, physical sensations in the body, and consciousness. When you are being mindful, you have an enhanced ability in terms of your self-awareness and capacity to reflect on your experience and daily life.
Art therapy first became popularized as a form of treatment in the 1940s as a method of utilizing art either as an approach to therapy or as part of psychotherapy itself. To understand what this means, consider two examples:
- In "art as therapy," you as a client would create art as a way to identify and release emotions that you've been holding inside.
- In "art psychotherapy," your therapist would analyze art that you create to develop insight into your psychological issues and emotions.
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction
A precursor to mindfulness-based art therapy, mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is used to help clients approach situations from a place of acceptance and awareness. In this way, MBSR is a technique to improve your understanding of your inner self and emotions. MBSR makes use of techniques such as body scanning and meditation.
Mindfulness-Based Art Therapy
Combining mindfulness concepts with art therapy results in the therapeutic treatment known as mindfulness-based art therapy as first proposed by Rappaport. This treatment combines the philosophy of mindfulness within an art therapy setting. In other words, you engage in the creative process of making art as a way to explore yourself (in a mindful manner).
MBAT has slowly gained recognition as a tool for improvement in the field of psychology, though research-based evidence is still lacking, particularly with respect to studies with both treatment and control groups (to confirm that MBAT is better than a placebo treatment). Another name for mindfulness-based art therapy is "focusing-oriented art therapy," reflecting the emphasis on shifting focus as part of the experience.
In proposing the concept of MBAT, Rappaport incorporated the work of psychotherapist Eugene Gendlin's theory on focusing. Gendlin noticed that the clients who improved the most in therapy were the ones who connected to their inner physical self. In essence, mindfulness-based art therapy connects the imagination to the body and allows the expression of feelings that you can't get express in words.
Numerous benefits of mindfulness-based art therapy have been identified through empirical research. Some of the psychological issues that have shown promise in terms of their response to MBAT include the following (particularly in people with combined physical illnesses):
- anxiety disorders
- eating disorders
- substance abuse (relapse prevention)
- depressive disorders
- stress-related issues
- anger-related issues
Often, MBAT is used with individuals with physical illnesses to relieve psychological concerns, including those with coronary artery disease (CAD) and different types of cancer. For these individuals, mindfulness-based art therapy may help to lower distress levels and improve quality of life.
Some of the specific psychological benefits of MBAT that have been demonstrated in the literature include the following:
- improved psychological stability
- improved quality of life (QoL)
- changes in brain patterns reflecting a calm, focused state of attention
- thicker and more developed gray matter areas in the brain
- development of neural pathways in your brain that enable you to create and focus on art making
- reduced cognitive avoidance in which you become less aware of what you are thinking and doing when experiencing psychological distress
- improved intuition and trust in your own body (how you are feeling and what it means)
- increased emotional awareness
- increased sense of control and ability to share inner thoughts
- improved awareness of underlying issues that have been hidden
- ability to communicate abstract feelings
- increased self-esteem and self-acceptance
- improved attention span
Finally, mindfulness-based art therapy is beneficial because it can be easier to practice than attending psychotherapy appointments (in the case of self-help MBAT). Meditation can be practiced on your own at home as can many art-based forms of mindfulness.
While this doesn't replace interaction with a therapist, there are endless possibilities in terms of cost-efficient ways to implement MBAT in your daily life to combat stress and manage psychological difficulties.
Examples of MBAT
What exactly does MBAT look like in practice? While it's often administered in a therapy setting, many of these activities you could also implement your own at home. Let's take a look at some examples of mindfulness-based art therapy techniques to give you some sense of what to expect (if you are meeting with a therapist for the first time).
MBAT can be a fun way to bring more mindfulness into your life, even if you are only doing it on your own at home.
Do something for one hour a week that integrates mindfulness and art, and you'll more than likely see benefits to your psychological health.
- Draw a picture of yourself. This is an exercise in self-acceptance. Try to make the picture as realistic as possible and be accepting of any "flaws" that you identify in the picture.
- Mindfully study art materials. Examine art with a mindful eye using all five of your senses. What do you see, feel, touch, hear, taste? Engage in sensory stimulation and monitor your responses to all forms of art in your daily life.
- Use art to express emotions. As you paint, sculpt, draw, or otherwise create art, try to channel the emotions and feelings you are experiencing in your body. Observe any physical sensations while you are drawing or coloring. Express happy or stressful events from your week through your art. Retrieve the feelings that you experience in your body and display them in your art to help recognize your own unmet needs and hidden emotions that you have yet found a way to communicate or notice.
- Notice pain changing. If you live with chronic pain due to a physical illness, notice how your pain changes as you create art.
- Paint and walk. Paint the bottoms of your feet and create art by walking on paper.
- Create a collage. Make a collage that expresses your feelings and emotions.
- Before-and-after art pieces. Take notice of how you feel before and after creating an art piece to see if you notice improvements in your psychological well-being.
MBAT With Children
Mindfulness-based art therapy has been used with children experiencing trauma or who are going through physical illness and are hospitalized. For example, children might be asked to draw pictures to imagine the future or to share how they are feeling. When used with children, MBAT has been shown to increase self-awareness, resilience, and self-compassion.
In addition to traditional art-making, mindfulness-based art therapy can include drama therapy and musical therapy. These forms of MBAT make use of art to transform feelings and improve relaxation. For example, children will physical illnesses might observe a play by actors incorporating breathing and imagery instructions so that they learn to participate in mindfulness.
Palliative Care and MBAT
For patients nearing the end of life, mindfulness-based art therapy can be helpful to connect with spirituality, meaning in life, faith, and peace. While MBAT cannot help to reduce physical symptoms of illness, it may be useful in improving emotional well-being and psychological strength during times of distress, reflecting the goals of palliative care.
A Word From Verywell
Mindfulness-based art therapy combines forms of mindfulness and art to offer a method to help manage psychological issues, particularly among those experiencing other problems such as physical illness or end-of-life concerns. If you or a loved one is struggling with these types of issues, MBAT offered through a psychotherapist or other mental health professional or practiced on your own at home could be helpful in improving your quality of life and general psychological well-being.
Art Therapy: Definition, Types, Techniques, and Efficacy
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
Hinchey LM. Mindfulness-based art therapy: A review of the literature. Inquiries Journal. 2018;10:5.
Jang S-H, Lee J-H, Lee H-J, Lee S-Y. Effects of mindfulness-based art therapy on psychological symptoms in patients with coronary artery disease. J Korean Med Sci [Internet]. 2018 Feb 14 [cited 2019 Feb 27];33(12). DOI: 10.3346/jkms.2018.33.e88(Video) Mindfulness based Art Therapy
Meghani SH, Peterson C, Kaiser DH, Rhodes J, Rao H, Chittams J, et al. A pilot study of a mindfulness-based art therapy intervention in outpatients with cancer. Am J Hosp Palliat Care. 2018 Sep;35(9):1195–200. DOI: 10.1177/1049909118760304
Prioli KM, Pizzi LT, Kash KM, Newberg AB, Morlino AM, Matthews MJ, et al. Costs and effectiveness of mindfulness-based art therapy versus standard breast cancer support group for women with cancer. Am Health Drug Benefits. 2017 Sep;10(6):288–95. DOI: 10.1016/j.jval.2014.03.524
By Arlin Cuncic
Arlin Cuncic, MA, is the author of "Therapy in Focus: What to Expect from CBT for Social Anxiety Disorder" and "7 Weeks to Reduce Anxiety."
See Our Editorial Process
Meet Our Review Board
Was this page helpful?
Thanks for your feedback!
What is your feedback?
The benefits of mindfulness-based art therapy include: reduced stress and anxiety, improved mood and self-esteem, more fulfilling personal relationships, deeper insight and ways to develop compassion for yourself and others.
Mindfulness can: help relieve stress, treat heart disease, lower blood pressure, reduce chronic pain, , improve sleep, and alleviate gastrointestinal difficulties.
Mindfulness-based Art Therapy (MBAT) is an approach that incorporates mindfulness practices like meditation and yoga into the practice of art therapy to promote health, wellness and adaptive responses to stress.
If you are struggling, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, also known as MBCT, may help. MBCT and other meditative practices have been shown to reduce anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, lower stress and cortisol levels, and are beneficial for all ages.
Mindful Art often induces a Flow State and you are encouraged to notice your breath, thoughts, sensations, emotions, etc while making art. Mindful Meditative Art is a creative form of meditation. Whether you're an experienced artist, meditator, or have no previous experience this practice is for you!
visual arts are very similar. Furthermore, the activities of mindfulness and art-making share several similarities, such as increased engagement with the present moment and regulation of attention.
In general, they seek to develop three key characteristics of mindfulness: Intention to cultivate awareness (and return to it again and again) Attention to what is occurring in the present moment (simply observing thoughts, feelings, sensations as they arise) Attitude that is non-judgmental, curious, and kind.
Neuroscientists have also shown that practicing mindfulness affects brain areas related to perception, body awareness, pain tolerance, emotion regulation, introspection, complex thinking, and sense of self.
Studies show that mindfulness-based approaches can significantly reduce the symptoms of anxiety and depression. They can also help people who have been depressed several times to stay well and avoid relapsing.
Mindful drawing is an embodied practice. In other words: bring yourself (your mind and your body) to the present moment and get immersed in the act of drawing without doing anything else simultaneously.
Painting expressively in a free manner guided only by color and motion of the brush is the path to mindful creation. The second part to this is your emotional state. When you are creating in this manner you will relax more. You could become absorbed into the moment.
Neurographic art is a simple way to work with the subconscious mind through drawing, Mrs. Hoban-Rich explained. This creative method stimulates new neural pathways by combining art and psychology. Simply stated, connected neurons process information received.
This relatively new concept was first formally introduced by psychologist and writer Laury Rappaport in 2009 in her book "Mindfulness and the Arts Therapies." In its simplest sense, MBAT combines the benefits of mindfulness training (for example, meditation) within the structure of an art therapy framework.