Using art for self-expression and coping


Malena Fouts Arteaga (made with Canva)

Art therapy can be used to help with a number of things, such as depression, grief, loss, anxiety, etc.

Self-expression and dealing with your problems is something that everyone should learn, especially when you are young. Going through difficult times is something that’s going to happen to everyone, so knowing a safe coping mechanism such as art therapy is important. As a high schooler, I often find myself doodling in class when I’m stressed out, drawing at home when I have something on my mind bothering me, or when I’m simply bored.

Art therapy is a type of psychotherapy in which you are encouraged to express yourself using art materials. Although it’s not “prescribed” to someone the same way that medicine is, it can be recommended to a patient by a professional. According to, art therapy can help people that are dealing with anxiety, stress, depression, eating disorders, grief, dementia, PTSD and so much more. It can also help with self-discovery, emotional release and self-esteem. It’s for anyone and everyone who needs help with mental, emotional, educational, psychological and spiritual growth or guidance. 

It can also improve sensory-motor functions, emotional resilience, social skills, and it helps with the advance of societal change. Art therapy is made to empower people, and help with one’s well being. Art therapy has been used for thousands of years, however, it didn’t become a formal practice up until the 1940s. 

Amy Holte is an AVID teacher here at MCHS. She’s also the advisor for the Art Club. In her class, she’s done multiple activities and lessons based on mental health and stress.

“I think that art is a way for people to unwind and be creative. I know for us in Art Club, having a community of other supportive artists was really special during the pandemic. Also, setting up the time for art, even if it was just an hour every few weeks, acted as something to look forward to – especially when there wasn’t much to look forward to in quarantine. For some people, art lets them connect to their emotions in a tangible way and can act as an outlet for feelings that need to be expressed,” said Holte. 

According to UN News, there was a global online event called ResiliArt that urged everyone to join because they wanted to prove that even though there was a pandemic going on, art could still bring people together. During the event, professionals and artists were gathered to have a live debate to discuss the future, present, and past of creativity for UNESCO. UNESCO works to provide education of sciences, culture, art, and communication, and is also working to eradicate poverty. They also strive to keep up the conversation of culture and creativity. It is built up of countries in Europe. 

“We are seeing an increased turn to the arts during the COVID-19 pandemic. Globally, we have turned to art engagement as a source of comfort and strength. Participating in and viewing art makes us connect to a more universal human experience. Be it art-making at home, public murals, watching and listening to plays and music, or new-found interests in culinary arts, art is an expression of what it means to be human,” according to

I’ve been seeing more people make art and post it. It seems as if more people have been appreciating art lately.

“The stigma around mental health disorders seems to be fading away from the more we are open to talking about them. So many of us have looked for outlets and self-care over the past two years and art has been a natural way for many people to do that. Those of us who aren’t naturally gifted artistically, still enjoy the experience of making art, and I think that when you are given a safe space to create, then you can let your guard down and enjoy it,” said Holte. 

While there isn’t a specific age range art therapy is directed to, it has shown many benefits, especially for teens and seniors. Art therapy can help teens express their feelings that may be hard to express with words, gain skills of ownership, build trust in their environments, and can improve social skills, which is especially important for shy teens. Having a way to non-verbally express yourself is beneficial for everyone, but especially teenagers; it gives us a way to navigate through the difficult teen years and is seen as a non-threatening treatment by many. It also gives therapists a better understanding of concerns, especially the ones that are too difficult to talk about. 

According to, art therapy can help with the loss that older adults face in life. Whether it be the loss of family, friends, homes, or even physical abilities, art therapy can help them cope with grief and get adjusted to age-related changes. They can also use art to paint their memories and help keep their precious memories alive, as they may start having memory loss issues due to their age. This type of therapy also gives older adults a way to see their emotional growth. While some seniors may have physical limitations, they can use art as a way to see the creative abilities that they kept throughout life and the strength they hold now. 

Cheryl Peat is a retired art teacher and has won the Orange County Art Educator of the Year award twice. She used to teach at Mendez Fundamental and at Sierra Intermediate. 

“Sometimes you get teachers that discourage you, so it’s really important to avoid that. My art teacher friends of course are amazing, but I’ve also met a bunch of adults that won’t even touch art because of a negative experience somewhere, either in an art class or someone made fun of their artwork so they just put it down, and just never picked it back up again,” said Peat. 

Adults tend to put down art because they feel as if their art will never be good enough. They decide that they will never be good at art, so they just stop. Many adults also work in a non-creative environment, so their sense of creativity might die down as time goes by. Another reason that’s given is that children see that adults aren’t making art, so they stop at a young age as well. 

“It can calm anxiety, if you’re feeling emotional it can help you process the emotions. You’re using your hand, you’re using your eyes. Even just touching the pencil or touching the paper, and just letting out what’s inside can relax you. You can do that for a little while and then go back to work. If you’re stressed and have a lot of work to do, or you have classes, you can do something simple like that,” said Peat. 

When we were in quarantine and everyone was doing online classes, I found myself getting bored quickly and pretty often. I had stress on me because the setting of my home was not at all like a classroom. I didn’t have a teacher or my friends nearby if I needed help, and I was too nervous to ask for help online. During the breaks, I decided that I was going to try to pick up drawing and painting again. As soon as I opened the drawing program on my tablet, I felt calmer. I knew that class was going to start soon but that didn’t matter to me because I wanted my full focus to be on what I was about to draw. Drawing or painting didn’t get rid of my anger or stress, but putting whatever I was feeling into my drawings certainly did help with everything. I had forgotten what it was like to choose the colors or to choose the background, having control of something when I was learning alone felt relieving. I decided that I was going to do this during the whole duration of quarantine so not only did my skills improve, but I had learned a new coping mechanism. My creativity growth seemed to have an impact on the people around me because my sister had also started to pick up drawing again, so seeing that I had brought back a hobby to someone without even realizing it made me feel even better. 

“I don’t think we have enough creativity or self-expression in schools. It’s important, it’s a human need and I wish that there were more classes and it was emphasized more,” stated Peat.

One of the main reasons why art isn’t being prioritized at school is because schools are spending more time on subjects that appear on standardized tests. While there are lessons at school about historic art, that just isn’t enough. In middle school, I noticed that creativity was never really taught outside of the art class and art club. Even now, some teachers have held off on group poster projects. I think more people would choose a poster project if creativity was celebrated more in school. 

“It’s part of the fun and beauty in life. Some people use painting, drawing, sculpting. But of course, your art can be your makeup, your clothes, or the way you decorate. The involvement of color, of texture,” said Peat. 

Many people consider their appearance, makeup, clothes, hair, and even nails as art. After all, you can use those as a way to express yourself. Getting to decide how your makeup, hair, or clothes look is getting to decide how people will see you. Anyone and everyone can show their creativity or mental state with their clothes. Using your body is the easiest way to express yourself because a body is something that everyone has. 

Art therapy isn’t the only creative therapy that is used to treat mental illness, other people have used dance therapy, drama therapy, music therapy, and even writing therapy. Art just happens to be the most popular and commonly talked about. Many people also believe that just painting is considered art therapy. Other techniques include coloring, doodling, finger painting, photography, clay, and even just scribbling. 

This isn’t something that should be complicated, you can take classes with other people, do it with friends, or yourself at home (or any other location you prefer). It doesn’t take any skill either, and it doesn’t matter how long you have been making art. Humans are naturally born with creativity, so all you really need is something to make your mark with. While most people use some sort of paint and a canvas, you can use any medium of your preference. Many also do sculpting, photography, drawing, and animation. The great thing about this is that there are different price points for each medium, so it’s easy to find quality products while on budget.

“Everyone should know that they don’t have to be ‘good’ at art to use it as an outlet- art is for anyone and the act of making it is just as important as the finished product,” stated Holte.