Mindfulness practice is defined as “an awareness of self and a capacity to reflect” (Smalley & Winston, 2010), but has branched out from its roots as a Buddhist meditation method to become integrated into psychology as a means of coping with a variety of conditions including anxiety, eating disorders, substance abuse, and other mental, emotional, and physical issues (Smalley & Winston, 2010).

20191012_170550Ely Lodge – Enniskillen by Philippa Bennett

Concurrently, as mindfulness continues to progress as a therapeutic treatment, a dual therapeutic modality has also been gaining momentum.

Since its beginnings in the late 1940s, art therapy has rapidly developed. Its application spreading everywhere from hospitals to prisons, in addition to many individual practices. A typical art therapy session will generally include either the art as therapy approach, in which the act of creating serves as a means of releasing emotions, or the art psychotherapy approach, in which the completed art is analyzed by the therapist and client to develop insight into their emotions (Coleman & Farris-Dufrene, 1996).

Recently, several progressive figures in the field, including psychologist and writer Laury Rappaport, have proposed Mindfulness-Based Art Therapy, or MBAT, as a method of combining the philosophies of mindfulness practices with the existing art therapy setting (Rappaport, 2009). While Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction has long been used to help clients approach themselves and the world around them with an open, accepting mindset and an awareness that allows them to reflect on what they find, leading to a greater understanding of one’s emotions and inner self, Mindfulness-Based Art Therapy aims to include the creative process of art-making in this self exploration.

20191012_170433Ely Lodge – Enniskillen by Philippa Bennett

Much has been accomplished in this field to date, and professions are of the opinion that this method will greatly benefit patients participating in therapy, in addition to becoming a successful asset to the field of art therapy in the future (Rappaport, 2009).

While more research is necessary to determine exactly how effective Mindfulness-Based Art Therapy is compared to traditional art therapy, the practice has already begun to demonstrate its value as a healing tool in the field of psychology, where variety in methods is essential to accommodate for the variety present in human beings.


Research has shown that because the brain accesses similar states during both treatment modalities, it is not mentally difficult for clients to combine them and receive the benefits of these two methods at once (Smalley & Winston, 2010). According to Susan L. Smalley, a researcher and writer on the subject, long-term mindfulness practices can change brain patterns, “moving towards patterns that coincide with calm yet focused states of attention,” as well as brain structure, contributing to thicker and more developed areas of gray matter (Smalley & Winston, 2010). In similar ways, art making engages and develops neural pathways in the brain that foster the skills needed for creating (e.g. focus) (Englebright Fox & Schirrmacher, 2009).

Photo ref: Headspace Meditation App, Philippa Bennett

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