of Art Therapy

The article is dedicated to the EEG experiments in the field of neuroscience and art therapy. The EEG scan analysis shows the increased presence of Alpha waves indicating relaxation through creativity for all participants. The activity in the left hemisphere in the artist's brain was more evident compared to increasing activity in the Frontal Lobe on non-artists, which is a sign of learning. Some abnormalities in the cortical brain waves appeared during a few of the sessions, which may be responsible for deeper brain networks.

психолог, арт-терапевт
In the beginning of my education in the National Academy of Arts, Sofia, Bulgaria, I was introduced to art as unconditionally existential. In the years which I spent being an artist, I learned and practised art religiously, as part of my life and consciousness, quoting my professor Bozhidar Boyadzhiev, “Art is the most complicated thing in the world and the hardest profession to succeed in, it is a way of life and you must dedicate yours to it”. In this spirit, I decided to do a Pedagogy specialisation parallel to my main studies, in the aim to teach what I learn in the future, but the knowledge that perceived me during those years had its’ effect and I slowly started leaning towards the world of psychology.

After graduating from my Bachelor’s degree I had a choice- whether to continue pursuing Art or to undertake the challenge of Art therapy. Curiosity took its’ toll and I started studying psychology. Meanwhile, I had started teaching, which unveiled a new perspective and gave me great experience in working with various people from different age groups and backgrounds. But even after a year in the art therapy program and two years in teaching, the artist in me kept asking questions, which all led to this one: Where do I stand in art therapy, as an artist?

During my studies, I met professor Peter Tzanev [1], who found my question interesting and we started having discussions on the topic, which further developed in my Master’s thesis: “The effects of art therapy depending on the leading specialists”.
In my thesis, which was defended successfully February 2020, I studied art therapy from the beginning- its’ definition, and noticed that depending on the Art Therapy Association, the explanation was slightly different. For example, there was a difference between the British [2] and American [3]. Associations, where the former perceived it as more of a psychoanalytical study for psychologists, while the latter saw it as a therapy, which aimed to help self-development. When reading more about it, I realised that the AA had a less scientific approach towards art therapy and considered equally the “art” part as much as the “therapy” part, in contrast to the BA, where the “therapy” part prevailed. Naturally, that was very important to me, since I am an artist, and never felt quite in place among psychologists. Having in mind that art therapy started from the artist Adrian Hill, I was very optimistic in finding my path as an artist, in helping the individual. Later, I started comparing different opinions on who should lead the therapy session. According to Rumiana Pankova, there were certain types of art therapies where the artist is not allowed to participate, and others where he is only allowed with a supervisor or psychologist. Meanwhile, Suzanne Darley [4]. states, that art therapists could be anyone, who is qualified to consult or supervise, even a priest. In contrast to that, art therapist Joana Tan’s opinion is that artists should never be allowed to practise art therapy, and are only capable of leading art classes. In further research, I had found that in order to practise art therapy in most countries, you need to possess a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and have Art therapy as a specialisation or Master’s degree. This was very demanding on the side of psychology, and the term “art therapy”, started to sound more like “psychotherapy with artistic methods”. “Like other tools, art has the power to extend our capacities beyond those that nature has originally endowed us with. Art compensates us for certain inborn weaknesses, in this case of the mind rather than the body, weaknesses that we can refer to as psychological frailties.” [5].

After dwelling on why artist weren’t seen capable of leading art therapy, I began my trial to prove the importance of the artistic intuition. I thought “What do artists have as an advantage when creating a piece of art? Why are we important to the process of art therapy? A psychologist can study how to analyse art, but we have a higher sense of understanding it.” So I started reading about the artist’s mind and how he thinks while using his creativity. In his book, “Psychology of art”, prof. Peter Tzanev [6] analyses an experiment, where two peoples’ brain function was compared, while looking at a portrait. Person A is an artist and Person B not. The difference between their perceptions is that A recognises the facial features much quicker than B, and that leaves time to go deeper on a “cognitive-perceptive” level, which is exactly why artists understand visual information better- not only because of their devotion to the art world and their profession, but because their minds are overly satisfied and stimulated with images and colours. This has developed their sensitivity towards analysing and being aware of the concept in any art piece, which is tightly connected to the work of an art therapist, as he deals with connecting to a client through the client’s art work.

Another important note is the ability for artists to see ahead of their time and to predict certain human behaviour, sometimes to the extent of the direction of evolution. This is due to the mentioned “thinking outside of the box” or creative qualities. A good example for that is the renowned writer Ray Bradbury [7], who mentions futuristic events which happen to develop quite closely to reality in the early 21st century. For example, in his book “451 degrees Fahrenheit”, he describes the future utopian person being surrounded by big screens, prescribed medication and little ear shells, which all dictate his life. Almost seventy years later, we have wireless earphones, which most of the youth is constantly using, a large amount of the population in developed countries has issues with mental health, regarding types of anxiety and moodiness, for which they take drugs on a daily basis, and we are surrounded by screens, constantly, in a variety of sizes. This is all definitely not a coincidence. Another example is his book “The Martian chronicles”, in which he describes how humans decide to populate planet Mars and start to name the hills and valleys with Earth names, conquering what is not theirs and claiming it. Nowadays, we have access to “Google Mars”, which allows us to view the planet and coincidentally, we have areas named “Arrabia Terra” or “Olympus Mons”. Again, extraordinary. These few examples show how artists have an advantage when using their creativity and are crucial in understanding people and human behaviour, especially when the medium is art.

After proving to myself the important qualities of an artist in a psychological environment, I went back to what Rumiana Pankova had said about the types of art therapy. According to her, the diagnostic part of the therapy has to be led by a professional, usually a psychiatrist or psychologist, while the more “creative outcome” has to be led by an artist, usually accompanied by a psychologist. This is when I realised that as an artist, I could guide a group of people through the therapeutic effect of producing art. It gave me the idea of separating art therapy in three main parts- “Art, as therapy”, “Art therapy” and “Art psychotherapy”.
Art therapy
Fig. 1. “Art, as therapy”
“Art, as therapy” is the creative process of painting, drawing, etc., which by itself is therapeutic. This type of therapy is to be led by an artist, hence the only person who would understand the mentioned activity would be someone who is trained to evaluate art and have knowledge in the different materials used. The art professional has a main role in this type of art therapy, creating the specific atmosphere, which is crucial in experiencing the art as a type of meditation. In this environment a client enjoys the freedom of expression with a specialist, who can guide him through the technicalities.

“Art therapy”, is to be led by an artist and a psychologist, because it combines both art and psychology. A good example for this is any art therapy method, which includes artistic expression and usually a discussion afterwards, e. g. meditation, drawing and discussion. This type of therapy is the perfect balance between the freeing feeling of self-expression and analysing of the unconscious, with the help of a professional.

Meanwhile, “Art psychotherapy” is to be led only by a psychologist or psychiatrist, where the method includes a simple drawing and deduction of meaning, based on certain criteria. In the book “Drawing-Test, Test-Drawing” (8), the author explains how specific tests in drawings can show problems, based on the unconscious, analysed by the psychologist. For example, the test “Draw a tree”, can show issues in the family life, socialising, thoughts of self-image, future, etc., depending on how one draws the tree. Overall, an artist is not needed, as the media is usually pencil and paper.

While outlining the theory, I started pursuing the practical part of its validation. I decided to do an experiment on how the different types of art therapy effected a client, by collecting data of the brain activity before and after, and comparing the results, which could prove or reject my theory. For this purpose, I contacted prof. Valeri Mladenov and research assistant Ivan Hristov, both from the Laboratory of Artificial Intelligence and CAD systems (Sofia Tech Park), who supervised the technical side of the experiment. The device for data collecting is a wireless electro-encephalographic Emotiv Epos 14+ with a 128 Hz frequency. There are three male volunteers, ages between 20–30 years, with different background. Volunteer 1 is an artist, Volunteer 2 is a medical student, and Volunteer 3 is highly functional autistic.

The session “Art, as therapy” was divided into three parts: 2–5 min Introduction, 20–30 min Drawing, 2–5 min Conclusion. I transformed the plain lab interior with creative decorations, candlelight, soothing music. There were various materials for painting (fig. 1). Each session was individual, as the EEG scan was too complicated to manage with more people at a time.

Each participant of the experiment was welcomed and given time to adjust to the environment. Then the topic was introduced and explained – “A scene in nature”. We both painted together. At times they would ask a question, or ask for help in certain art techniques. After concluding the task, the drawing wasn’t analysed. I expressed my gratitude towards the volunteer and if they initiated a conversation, I would gladly talk to them. Overall, all the participants were happy with their results and were excited to attend again.

The session “Art therapy” was divided into four parts: 5 min Introduction, 10–15 min Guided meditation, 15–20 min Drawing, 5–10 min Conclusion. The environment was similar to “Art, as therapy”. Mr. Ilko Todorov, an undergraduate in psychology was attending the session in order to participate in analysis of the art pieces. In the introduction, we inquired about the current emotional state of each volunteer. A guided meditation took place, where the participants were asked to imagine a safe outdoor scenery, consequently the subject of their drawing. In the conclusive part, all of us discussed the work of art. Overall, the volunteers were glad by the art therapy and were happy to talk about their art.

The session “Art psychotherapy” was divided into three parts: 2–3 min Introduction, 15 min Drawing, 10–15 min Discussion and conclusion. The lab was stripped of all decorations, resembling a casual office. The psychologist conducted solely this session, the artist was only an observer. The topic was introduced in the beginning –“Draw a tree”. After finishing the art work, the participant was asked a few questions regarding the tree they created. The psychologist attempted a discussion and concluded certain issues the participant might have in different fields in their life, according to his read of the drawings. With the autistic volunteer this seemed to be a complicated task. The other participants admitted to some troubles in their lives and were happy to have been part of the session.
Art therapy
Art therapy
Fig. 3 “Art, as therapy”, Volunteer 2
Fig. 2 “Art, as therapy”, Volunteer 1
Art therapy
Fig. 4 “Art, as therapy”, Volunteer 3
Fig. 2 “Art, as therapy”,
Volunteer 1
Fig. 2 “Art, as therapy”,
Volunteer 1
Fig. 3 “Art, as therapy”,
Volunteer 2
Fig. 3 “Art, as therapy”,
Volunteer 2
Fig. 4 “Art, as therapy”,
Volunteer 3
Fig. 4 “Art, as therapy”,
Volunteer 3
“Art therapy can be a way of telling without talking”
– Cohen and Cox 1995

In conclusion, creative expression is healing and life-enhancing. The EEG experiments in the field of neuroscience and art therapy are in the initial stages of exploration. After all therapies were conducted from the theory, the experts concluded from initial results that the sessions had an effect on the volunteers individually. The EEG scan analysis show in all of the subjects increasing electrophysiological activity of the cortex part of the brain. Increased presence of Alpha waves indicating relaxation through creativity for all participants. A noticeable blood flow in the Medial Prefrontal Cortex was observed as indication for activity of the reward path ways in the brain (for all the drawing tasks). The activity in the left hemisphere in the artist brain was more evident compared to increasing activity in the Frontal Lobe on non-artists, which is a sign of learning. Some abnormalities in the cortical brain waves appeared during a few of the sessions, which may be responsible for deeper brain networks.

The need for art therapy evolved in the twentieth century, as an answer of individuals, who are not receiving effective help with the traditional approaches. The specific skills of the artist, makes him able to fill the niche of this particular society need. In perspective, art therapy should be used as a multipurpose tool, available to specialists, from both art and psychology backgrounds.

1. Tzanev, Peter. “Ectoplastic Art Therapy as a Genre of Contemporary Art”// Arts no. 8(4). – 2019. – P. 134; [Google Scholar]
2. “What is art therapy”, official site of the British Association of Art Therapists
3. “About art therapy”, official site of the American Art Therapy Association
4. Darley, Suzanne. Heath, Wende. The Expressive Arts Activity Book. London and Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2007.
5. Botton, Allen de. Armstrong, John. Art as Therapy. London: Phaidon, 2013.
6. Tzanev, Peter. Psihologia na izkustvoto. Sofia: National Academy of Art, 2008. Available online:
(accessed on 15 October 2020). (In Bulgarian)
7. Bradbury, Ray. Fahrenheit 451. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1967.
8. Dacheva, Musi. Risunka-test, test risunka | Risuvatelni testove za detsa, 2005. Sofia: Svetulka. Available online:
(accessed on 15 October 2020). (In Bulgarian)


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