Depression – Creative Therapies

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Creative Therapies

Creative therapies such as music, art, drama, writing and dance therapy have all shown benefits as treatments for depression. Art therapy in particular has been used to both diagnose and treat depression for many years. Expressive therapies work particularly well for those who find it difficult to express their thoughts and worries verbally, for whom talking therapies can be frustrating. They are also a useful tool for depressed children or adolescents who may find an expressive therapy offers an easier way to access what is going on inside their minds.

A small preliminary study published in Jan 2013 investigated the potential of creative activities to promote recovery from mental health.  The study showed that participation in an open arts programme is likely to have benefits for mental health patients through improving wellbeing and social inclusion.

Music Therapy

Music therapy can include singing, songwriting, playing musical instruments and listening to music in an effort to express emotions and promote healing. It is a tried and tested treatment for depression.  The most recent study that Patient QI found was published in March 2014. A Chinese group investigated the effects of Chinese five element music therapy on nursing students with a depressed mood and compared the results to a control group who maintained their normal lifestyle and did not have music therapy. The depressed mood states were measured using a self-report inventory and the stress hormone cortisol was measured using a standard salivary cortisol test. Results showed that after receiving music therapy the nursing students’ depression levels were significantly reduced and there was also a reduction in cortisol levels as compared to the control group.

Art Therapy

This involves drawing or painting images that represent the patient’s thoughts or emotions, it is particularly useful with children.

Patient QI found a study published in 2012 that explored the value of participation in an Arts programme for helping the recovery process in adults with chronic mental health problems.  All of the participants had been treated with talk based therapies for persistent anxiety and depression and were in a phase of recovery.  Results showed that the patients found the Art therapy helped in returning to normality, enjoying life again and setting goals and stopping dwelling on the past but did not feel the art therapy alone would help them achieve recovery.  The study concludes that arts based therapy is a good supportive therapy to psychological talk therapies.

Drama Therapy

This is used to help patients express their feelings through role-play, improvisation or puppetry. Acting out difficult emotions can allow the person to achieve catharsis and eventually develop more effective coping skills.Drama Therapy has been found to be particularly effective for adolescent patients.

Dance Therapy

This is used to help patients express how they feel through movement. It has been shown to help both mental and physical health by providing easy exercises with sensory stimulus and it can present an alternative to drugs for depression. A study published in 2011 examined the effects of dance on depression levels in college students. 120 male and female student volunteers participated in the study and the treatment group received dance training three days a week for 12 weeks.  The control group did not receive any dance therapy and both groups were tested for levels of depression before and after the 12 week period.  Results showed a clear reduction in levels of depression in the dance group as compared to no change in the control group.

Writing Therapy

Writing therapy involves getting the patient to verbalize and work through difficult emotions by writing them down. Research has shown that this promotes health and wellbeing and can boost immune function, however it is only appropriate for those who find writing not too arduous. A recent German study on soldiers suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome found that writing therapy allowed the soldiers to write about traumatic effects in a different way to when they reported the incidents concerned which allowed them to work through areas of fear and depression.



Akandere et al. The effect of dance over depression. Coll Antropol Sept 2011.

Makin et al. ‘Getting back to normal’: the added value of an art-based programme in promoting recovery for common but chronic mental health problems. Chronic Illn Mar 2012.

Margrove et al. Waiting list-controlled evaluation of a participatory arts course for people experiencing mental health problems. Perspect Public Health Jan 2013.


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