Art Therapy Ideas

One therapeutic style that has become popular in the years is art therapy. Occasionally in the counseling realm we will run groups that meet for a multitude of reasons such as grief, addiction or meditation.

Art therapy was developed by Adrian Hill in the early 40’s and has taken off. You may see adult coloring books in stores that are to be used specifically for calming and de-escalating the individual. I have been charged with developing some groups at my organization and thought I would share some of them with you.

Art Therapy Idea: The Hope Box

An intervention under Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to combat suicidal ideation by fostering positive thoughts where previous negative reprieve thoughts are. It is a great way tool for multiple problems an individual may be facing such as depressive symptoms, anxiety or life stressors.


Materials needed:
Old shoe box, Wrapping paper, Scissors, and Tape


Instructions: You will need each group member to bring 5 items (something that calms them, brings them hope, motivates them, de-stress them, distracts them etc) to put into the box. Have everyone decorate their boxes however they would like on the outside and place their items on the inside. While everyone is decorating use the opportunity to catch up with everyone and check in on everyone’s recovery. As everyone completes their box go around the group and let each member explain why they put each item into the box specifically which item brings them hope. Inform the group to keep these boxes in an area they can easily obtain it so that it can be used in crisis situations.

Art Therapy Ideas: Adult Coloring

Created in the early 1600’s coloring books have transformed our lives. They decrease stress, increase concentration and lower anxiety. Due to the many benefits of adult coloring I use it often in individual and group therapy.
Materials needed:
Adult coloring book (make copies of pages), makers and sound maker.

Instructions: I normally pass out the adult coloring papers and place the markers in the middle of the table and initiate conversation between the group members. I play light music in the back ground to further foster a calming atmosphere. I check-in with them and see how everyone is progressing on their goals. This form of art therapy relaxes the group which fosters a comfortable safe space for sharing.


Art Therapy Ideas: Pain painting.

In a trauma group (can be used in other groups as well) I inform the participants that the purpose of this activity is to release any negative energy, emotions and memories relating to their past trauma or stressors.
Materials needed:
Paint, canvas (or paper), paint brushes, water, and table cloth
Instructions: Have the group members draw their pain, their hurt and their negativity. Be sure to process this with them (i.e. I see you have drawn a red house is this from your childhood or now? Why red? What does it represent to you? How could we make the home blue or yellow?).

I am sure to allow members to pain for 30-45 minutes and process the activity the remaining time so that no member leaves feeling triggered or on edge. It is optional to ask the individuals to share what they drew and why. I sometimes follow up by asking other group members what they think their group member can do to improve their emotions relating to the event.

How to practice proper self care?

Art Therapy Ideas: Vision boards

These have picked up in popularity in the last few years and I am loving it. A vision board is an art activity that you can use to reinforce the goals that each client has while including personal achievements they would like to reach within a certain time.


Materials needed:
Poster boards, markers, newspapers, magazines, paint, stickers, tape/glue and construction paper


Instructions: Personally I give an introduction to this art therapy activity such as: “We have all made goals with one another or with your assigned therapist that I want to help you all achieve. Today instead of solely speaking about our goals we are going to fill our boards with all of our goals-those made with and without our therapist. Feel free to use whichever materials you like and be willing to share in the end as you may encourage others and we can keep you accountable for your goals.”

As we put them together I ensure they include at least 1 thing relating to their mental health (i.e. self-care items), physical health (i.e. picture of fruit or vegetables) and the like. At the end we share our boards (yes, I do it with them) and speak our goals into existence with a time we would like to achieve them in.

Related Post: Group Therapy Ideas

Art Therapy Ideas: Puzzle pieces

I was able to sit in on an art therapy group where each member had a puzzle piece and would decorate it on the premise of “What mental health is like for you”
Materials needed : Paper cut into puzzle pieces (large size), markers, paint, stickers and tape
Instructions: To prep for this group make sure you cut out puzzle pieces that will connect with one another, as the idea is to show everyone in the group that mental health is difficult for everyone to cope with. It will demonstrate to others how mental illness or life events have challenged their minds so that may have insight and develop understanding.

Click here for downloadable puzzle piece: Puzzlepiecetemplates-1

What is it like to have a mental illness? Read about it here!


Art Therapy Ideas: ” I Am Grateful For” Wheel.

This is a group I learned about in grad school! It is excellent to use in groups with individuals with Depression, Post-partum Depression, and/or individuals at high risk.
Materials needed: Paper, pens, markers, colored pencils and stickers
Instructions: Instruct the group members to draw a circle in the center of the paper. Then draw multiple lines spaced out large enough to write between them. Next, the group members will fill in the spaces with things, people, places, or memories they are grateful for. Lastly, instruct the group to share a few things they are grateful for with the group and place their wheel somewhere they can see it each day (i.e. refrigerator or bathroom mirror).


Art Therapy Ideas: Pieces of your heart.

The objective of this art activity is to reinforce the notion that everyone has something or someone that is sacred to them. Similar to the Grateful Wheel, this activity reminds your group members of their motivators& what they consider important in their lives.
Materials needed:
Paper, scissors, tape/glue, markers and crayons.
Instructions: Have the group members cut a heart out of the paper. Then, take the heart and cut it into large pieces. One each piece of the heart have group members write things or people that are near and dear to the heart. After each member has finished go and round the group and share the Pieces of your heart. This activity is best used in groups of individuals who often forget their worth and the importance of living.


Art Therapy Ideas: Mask painting

How many of you have a work face, friend face and happy face? I know I do. Unfortunately many of us have a tendency to wear a smile 24/7 when really if we take the mask off our real feelings would show.


Materials needed: Paper with mask printed on them, markers, crayons and/or paint.


Instructions: In this exercise each member will decorate their mask based on the face they wear everyday but do not feel. The members can use symbolism through colors or locations to demonstrate to others the feelings they portray.

In example, if I am really sad or down I would draw a smile or sun or maybe use bright colors in my mask. The point of this group is to show others that while there are some circumstances you must wear a mask in others you must let your guard down so that loved ones can be there for you.

Related Post: How To Support Someone With Depression


Art Therapy Ideas: Draw your superhero.

There are certain qualities individuals normally admire about their superheroes. In this activity, the clients are represented the superheroes.


Materials needed: Paper, paint and markers


Instructions: Instruct the group to imagine themselves as a superhero and put the marker to the paper! The group can either draw a person, write the words or demonstrate in any other way what they would be like as a superhero. It is important to go around the group when everyone is starting to finish and have the members explain why they believe they would have certain powers. Be sure to help them see how these “superpowers” can be used in reality.


Art Therapy Ideas: Protection Shield

The idea behind this therapeutic group is to remind the group members of the individuals or things that make them feel safe, loved and important.


Materials: Paper with shield drawing on it, markers, sticker, crayons, and paint


Instructions: Group members are to use symbolism and colors to reflect their person, place or things that make them feel safe or loved. You can use this when individuals feel they “have no one” or “no one loves them”. This is a form you can also remind them of if you ever need to develop a safety plan with them

What are some Art Therapy group ideas you have? Which of these is your favorite or one that interest you?

62 thoughts on “Art Therapy Ideas

  1. This is great information. We recently had a painting party for my cousins birthday, and everyone enjoyed it so much. When we all gathered to talk about it the next day, everyone said how relaxing and therapeutic it was for them. We have been setting up painting dates at least once a month.

  2. These are great ideas and all are easy to implement! I’ve always wanted to do a vision board at the New Year but never follow through :/

  3. Love art therapy! It was one of my favourites. We made journals. She gave us a boxes full of old fabrics and we decorated the cover of our journals. Love the ideas you all come up with!

  4. Awesome post. Actually am not an art person, during art classes in high school then i tried to be good but wasn’t easy. I have a brother who’s an artist will share this with him.

  5. Awesome ideas you share! Though not really and art person I think its inspiring to start cause its never to late. Thanks for sharing

  6. Honestly, these are nice for some, but I get more stressed with these activities. What can really get me going is work and work and for relaxation, I read and get a massage. I dunno, it seems I don’t have the patience for these.

  7. Very interesting, art is one of the best methods to express our emotions, certainly. And I remember, one day I went to an art class to learn some paint techniques however it was like therapy class instead so, I was expecting something different but it was fun, indeed

  8. Such great ideas here! I have done things similar to the hope box but slightly different. I also like drawing Zentangles when I am wanting to relax a bit (or needing to).

  9. A self-care vision board is such a great idea! I personally have a ton of adult coloring books for when I just need to get my mind off of things.

  10. awesome. I also love art.. Recently, I am enjoying painting..i just hate it when I really like to do crafty things but my mood wont cooperate.. tzk

  11. I need to make time for art! I love looking at it, but to create my own and be creative is always a fun thing. Thanks for the encouragement!

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  13. Anything that has to do with painting I actually find relaxing. I haven’t done it in a long time but will get back into it someday. Thank you for this detailed post

  14. I truly miss painting it was something I was do into when I was a teen. But I love the idea of the hope box 📦. This is super informative and helpful for me and a lot of people

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