The Importance of Utilizing Art Therapy in the Treatment of Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia: the complete fragmentation of the thought process. Schizophrenia is a chronic and severe disorder that heavily impacts the prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain critical for cognitive thinking and decision making (Karlsgodt & Cannon, 2010). With various types of Schizophrenia, it is difficult to keep track of its different symptoms; however, most patients exhibit what doctors now call positive, negative and cognitive symptoms. Positive symptoms include hallucinations and delusions which are considered “outward expressions” (Positive & Negative Symptoms of Schizophrenia, 2019). In other words, positive symptoms mean a patient has lost touch with reality. Negative symptoms describe an “[internally] distorted emotional state” (Positive & Negative Symptoms of Schizophrenia, 2019). This includes hyperactivity, confusion and disorientation, and agitation. Lastly, there are the cognitive symptoms. These symptoms include lack of attention, poor motor skills, deficits in learning, abstract thinking, and memory (Foster, 2018). The use of medication has proven fairly successful when treating schizophrenia, but what other methods can be used to treat Schizophrenia? I turned to the idea of art as a possible treatment.

            The use of art therapy in the treatment of psychological issues similar to Schizophrenia, such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and general Anxiety or Psychotic Disorders, is effective. Like Schizophrenia, ADHD attacks the frontal cortex of the brain, which means decision making, memory, social behavior, and cognitive functions are all impacted (Aacap, 2017). While medications for maintaining the symptoms of ADHD are available and reliable, preventing the condition (almost) entirely is far more desirable. In one study, Hina Ayaz from the University of Karachi focuses on the use of art therapy in the intervention of ADHD among children predisposed to the disorder. Her assessment concludes that art therapy can be used successfully in the intervention of ADHD (Ayaz, 2018). These positive findings are particularly important when considering the possibility of art therapy’s effectiveness on Schizophrenia. If this type of therapy is able to help address the symptoms of ADHD and intervene during its earliest stages, then there is also a possibility of it doing the same for Schizophrenia. But with hardly any research available, we will not be able to firmly reach this conclusion.

Of course, preventing most mental disorders during their onset is not entirely successful and depends on an individual’s specific circumstances. While the predisposing genetic factors increase the risk of developing Schizophrenia, it is the environment (childhood upbringing, psychosocial factors) that causes the onset of this debilitating disorder. Therefore, looking at the effects of art therapy on trauma related psychological disorders such as PTSD is critical. According to the American Art Therapy Association “art therapy is used to reduce debilitating symptoms” like mood or anxiety disorders, disorders that are also experienced by Schizophrenics (The Traumatic Impact and Aftereffects of Gun-Related Violence, 2019). If the use of art therapy is able to relieve the symptoms experienced and traumatic memories relived by those who suffer Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, then providing Schizophrenic patients with art therapy during a psychotic episode or a general therapy session may prove extremely successful.

When looking at basic treatment options for any psychological disability, options include medication and various forms of therapy. This means, pairing art therapy with current medications issued for Schizophrenia is more effective than using either method alone. Now, there are two categories of medication based on symptoms that are offered to treat Schizophrenia. One category is the first-generation antipsychotics (typical). These include medications like Thorazine and Prolixin and while they treat symptoms of Schizophrenia, they can also cause problems with motor functions (NAMI, 2018). These are terrible side effects that no one should have to endure. But what if there was a way to reduce the chances of these symptoms or prevent them? That is where art therapy can come in. Art therapy allows a patient to practice precise motor skills by painting, drawing, and coloring. Not only is this extremely therapeutic and beneficial, but it is also fun and utilizes the prefrontal/frontal cortex. The other category is second generation antipsychotics (atypical). These types of antipsychotics include Clozaril and Invega, which side effects include weight gain, diabetes, and other physically challenging impairments (Uçok & Gaebel, 2008). While art therapy cannot directly help patients with the physical side effects, it can help with any mood disorders caused by the physical side effects. Art therapy allows patients to express or project themselves in creative ways (Author, 2019).  If a patient is not able to communicate their thoughts through words, art can be utilized as a creative outlet and ultimately gives them a voice as well as a source of therapeutic comfort.

Unfortunately, without the proper scientific research to back this subject, it is difficult to fully understand the effectiveness of art therapy on Schizophrenia. What makes this matter even more disappointing is the thought that art therapy may be able to catch and address the early symptoms of Schizophrenia. Catching Schizophrenia before it becomes chronic is crucial, because the patient will be able to make a full recovery as long as they remain in the correct environment. Of course, this lack of research can change by promoting the theory of art therapy as a method of treatment for Schizophrenia. Platforms such as the American Art Therapy Association are wonderful for getting involved, learning about, and spreading information about this type of therapy to the public. Research on this topic must be considered because not knowing the full effects of art therapy on this debilitating disorder may be causing unneeded suffering. By furthering the research into this topic, rehabilitation rates for this terrible psychological disorder increase and Schizophrenic patients suffer less. If there is a chance that art therapy has a large impact on Schizophrenia it is crucial that we further research on this topic. It may also open doors to new ideas and innovation regarding psychological disorders such as Alzheimer’s.

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Fun painting of one of Louis Wain’s cats. He is a famous artist known for his psychedelic cat pictures. He also suffered from Schizophrenia and well… Art!

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