Woman exercising at music therapy in farmhouse.

Creative Arts Therapy: Healing Through the Arts

When we think of healing or getting well, we often think of visiting a doctor, keeping up with our medications or following a treatment plan. But what about dancing, painting, acting and making music? What do those activities have to do with healing?

According to a study published in the Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, there is growing evidence to suggest that the creative arts are an effective component to mental and physical healing and overall well-being.

If you’re interested in seeing if creative arts therapy may work for you, check out the information below and learn more about creative arts therapy, the benefits associated with it and how you can get involved.

What Is Creative Arts Therapy?

Like other types of therapy, creative arts therapy aims to promote recovery, rehabilitation and wellness. It does this by using the arts, including dance/movement, art, drama and music therapy.

Creative arts therapy offers a unique, non-pharmaceutical approach to healing.

VA suggests creative arts therapy for a wide range of health conditions, including:

  • Amputation
  • Chronic illness and pain management
  • Drug and alcohol use
  • Mental health issues
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Spinal cord injuries
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Visual impairment

Here is a brief description of each therapy, according to VA:

  • Art therapy — An art therapist uses art media, your creativity and the resulting artwork to help Veterans reconcile emotional conflicts, foster self-awareness, manage behavior and addictions, develop social skills and reduce anxiety. Art therapy may include painting, sculpture or other forms of artistic expression.
  • Dance/Movement therapy — Therapists use movement to help Veterans explore their physical, emotional and cognitive well-being in a therapeutic setting. Dance therapy provides a means for intervention through expressive, communicative and adaptive body movement. It can include different forms of dance or movement and can be done alone, with a partner or as part of a group.
  • Drama therapy — Therapists use drama and theater processes to address therapeutic goals by providing Veterans with a space to set goals, express themselves, tell their stories and solve problems.
  • Disabled man practices playing guitar at home.Music therapy — Therapists use clinical music interventions to accomplish treatment goals. Music therapy can include activities such as active music listening, singing, playing instruments, creating music and more.

Creative arts therapists are highly skilled, credentialed professionals. Like other therapists in health care, they complete extensive coursework and clinical training within their field. Your creative arts therapist is often a member of an interdisciplinary team or a consultant responding to another provider’s request. To begin treatment, your therapist will conduct a personalized assessment to develop treatment goals and an individualized treatment plan.

How Can Creative Arts Therapy Help Me?

Creative arts therapy offers a unique, non-pharmaceutical approach to healing. It isn’t designed to treat just one thing or heal one aspect of your health. It’s used to treat Veterans with various neurological, orthopedic, medical, surgical and mental health conditions. For example, if you’re currently participating in talk therapy and feel like words are failing you, art therapy may provide you with a powerful and safe way to address your trauma. A dramatic presentation may give “voice” to your experiences, emotions or memories. A music lesson may provide you with a way to calm yourself and reduce stress. A dance piece may help you restore a deeper connection with your body and alleviate chronic pain symptoms.

Within VA’s creative arts therapy program, treatment goals include things such as:

  • Improving cognition and sensorimotor function
  • Building emotional resilience
  • Developing social and coping skills
  • Providing a sense of achievement
  • Channeling energy into productive forms of behavior
  • Reducing stress levels and regulating mood
  • Reducing feelings of guilt, grief and loss
  • Improving sleep

Numerous studies back up the effectiveness of using creative arts therapy. For example, research from the National Library of Medicine shows that creative arts therapy, in conjunction with additional treatment, improves trauma processing. Their work suggests that the visual, auditory and kinesthetic elements used in creative arts therapy can help Veterans process memories in a meaningful way. In addition, studies from the National Endowment for the Arts find that creative arts therapy shows success in patients with PTSD and traumatic brain injuries. Patients who used creative arts therapy in conjunction with other therapy had positive outcomes such as decreased loneliness, reduced anxiety levels, increased mobility, reduced PTSD symptoms and more.

How Can I Get Involved?

Creative arts therapy is part of VA’s Recreation Therapy Service. VA employs more than 900 recreation and creative therapists and offers services for individuals and groups in acute, residential, outpatient, home-based and telehealth settings.

VA’s Creative Arts Therapies page discusses the program, the research behind it, the standards used to measure its success, additional creative arts therapy organizations and much more. You can view a list of national points of contact, as well as download a spreadsheet of local contacts listed by VA facility.

In addition, each year VA helps to sponsor a National Veterans Creative Arts Festival. It’s the culmination of local VA facility competitions in art, creative writing, dance, drama and music. The competition recognizes the progress and recovery made through creative arts therapy and showcases the creative achievements of Veterans across the country.


If you’re still unsure about the impact creative arts therapy can have on your health, check out the following stories from other Veterans using VA services. VA Psychiatrist Includes Music in Her Therapy and From Coma to the Festival Stage both share inspiring stories of Veterans who have successfully integrated creative arts therapy into their treatment plans.

In addition, take some time to explore Creative Forces®: NEA Military Healing Arts Network, an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with the U.S. Department of Defense and VA, which places creative arts therapists at clinical sites throughout the country. Check out their research, success stories, program highlights and more.

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