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Group art therapy: supporting social inclusion through an ancient practice?

Sue Holttum (Canterbury Christ Church University, Canterbury, UK)

Mental Health and Social Inclusion

ISSN: 2042-8308

Article publication date: 12 February 2018




Group art therapy involves art-making, which has been used throughout human history to symbolise struggle and transformation with group support. The purpose of this paper is to discuss two recent papers on how and why group art therapy may be helpful.


A search was carried out to find recent papers on group art therapy, with a focus on how and why it may be helpful.


One paper reported on 119 accounts of why group art therapy may be helpful. Five things seemed specific to group art therapy: using artworks to express experiences symbolically, connect with others, place confusing feelings outside oneself, and be playful, and following a set routine with others. The other paper reported in detail on group art therapy sessions with people who had a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder. Group interaction became most supportive when the art therapist clearly focused on people’s thoughts and feelings about artworks made by group members.


It has been unclear how group art therapy may help people. Understanding this means researchers can do more rigorous research on it. The two papers discussed represent probably the largest synthesis of different sources on how group art therapy might work, and the most detailed observation of what happens in practice. Both papers suggest group art therapy uses art to symbolise struggle and transformation with support from others, thus normalising this process and including those going through it rather than marginalising them. Parallels can be drawn with older healing rituals, in which crisis and struggle were viewed as normal.



Holttum, S. (2018), "Group art therapy: supporting social inclusion through an ancient practice?", Mental Health and Social Inclusion, Vol. 22 No. 1, pp. 6-12.



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