Art Therapy and Depression

A Personal Perspective

Ian appeared to be a well-adjusted and successful forty year old to his friends, family, and co-workers. However, he often felt as if he were merely going through the motions, and felt increasingly disconnected from the people and activities that he used to care about. He found himself struggling to keep up a kind of pretense that everything was fine, and felt confused at his emotional withdrawal, because there had been no overt crisis that might have triggered his encroaching sense of bleakness. He was used to being in control of his feelings, and he felt frightened to have no clear idea as to why he seemed to be feeling increased lethargy and numbness. When he came to his first session, he said that he was curious about using art to explore the possible reasons for his depression, because he had always been a person who "lived in his head", and tended to intellectualize his emotions.
After utilizing art therapy for several sessions, Ian discovered that he felt the most engaged by tactile art materials. He was curious when I told him about mask-making using plaster bandages on his own face, and was eager to try this technique as part of his therapy. He used a mirror to shape the bandages onto the contours of his face, and was surprised to become tearful at the sense of stroking himself as he flattened the bandages. He said that he hadn't cried in years, not even when his father had died. He was initially threatened by his tears, but also said that he felt more alive. After he decorated the mask, he noticed that the side that he painted all white reminded him of the shut-down experience of his depression. The other side of his face was painted black, with tears running down. He began to recall how difficult it had always been for him to ask for comfort, or to expose vulnerability of any kind, even to those he was close to. As he began to open up to past experiences of unexpressed pain, he was surprised to find that feeling sad was different than being depressed, and that when he allowed himself to cry he ended up feeling better. He hadn't realized how many emotional reactions to events in his life, had been tucked away, put on hold, so to speak, because he feared being overwhelmed by their power. The more Ian was able to access his emotions through his art, and allow the feelings to wash over him, the more his depression began to dissolve. In one of his last sessions, he pointed to the colorful zigzag line he had laid down with glitter between the two halves of the mask. He said it felt like a bridge, from the bleak but safe cocoon of his depression, to the deep realms of emotion that were full of energy and life.

Previous art experience is not necessary.


Eating Disorders
Men & Weight Issues

Chemical Dependency

Alcohol Abuse
Drug Abuse

Mood Disorders


Contact Information