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Art Therapy is Most Effective when Positive

Pieces of Me?Art Therapy is becoming widely used and accepted as an alternate form of treatment for depression, anxiety, and ADHD.  It can be a truly wonderful modality, yet I often become disturbed when seeing some of the images that people create when they are depressed.  There is so much focus on the darkness of depression, as opposed to the brilliance we obtain from such depth of emotion.  I found research  that helps explain why, and how if we consciously create positive art it can create an even more intense improvement on stress, tension, depression, and the anxiety that often accompanies ADHD.

Art therapy is a great tool for those with ADHD, as it allows a person to express feelings, emotions, and energy through the hands and it releases energy.  Anytime ADHDers can do something free flowing and unstructured is wonderful, and art is a really fantastic way.  I’ve read a lot about art therapy, but few have touched on the importance of creating something positive with that energy.

The study, done by Anne Dalebroux, Thalia R. Goldstein, and Ellen Winner, is titled;  Short-term mood repair through art-making: Positive emotion is more effective than venting.  They had participants watch a movie with a negatively valenced mood, and after have them engage in art that included either creating a drawing reflecting their current mood (venting), creating a drawing reflecting something happy (positive), or scanning the sheet for symbols (neutral).

All three groups had an increase in mood state, but while there was no difference between negative and neutral groups, the happy group was in a statistically significantly better mood than the other two groups.   I think this is profound as it is something I have felt intuitively for years, but have yet to seen in an actual study.  When we want to express our negative emotions, we can do so either in a negative way (through addictions, escape, or focusing on the pain), or we can take the tremendous energy we get from the pain and put it into something positive.

When we look at the #1 reason people are not getting help for their issues of the mind is stigma (negative perception), it can be easily understood when we look at all the imagery associated with the dark mind.  It is dark!  Yet imagine if all the people with such complex, brilliant minds took their pain and manifested something truly beautiful that projects light from all the darkness.

Personally, I’ve found that my most interesting and insightful work is when I am feeling so intensely overwhelmed or sad, and able to channel that raw emotion into something creatively productive.  Even if it is from bed or at 3 in the morning, I have no energy and can’t see a light at the end of the tunnel.  Just writing or drawing about the hope in the situation, no matter how small, helps.

Art Therapy is Most Effective when Positive

Kathryn Goetzke

I own a company called the Mood-factory (, a company that creates products based on how sensory experiences effect moods. I also run a nonprofit for depressio, iFred (, we are working to change the brand of depression. And yes, I have ADHD, along with PTSD, major depressive disorder, and a host of other challenges, opportunities, and gifts.

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APA Reference
Goetzke, K. (2010). Art Therapy is Most Effective when Positive. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 11, 2020, from


Last updated: 26 Jul 2010
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