Design thinking is a creative process that lends itself to many different contexts. It has been used in business, engineering, education, and even the arts. In recent years, there has been an increasing interest in applying design thinking to art therapy. Design thinking can be a powerful tool for healing. By engaging in creative problem-solving and exploring emotions, clients gain insight into their feelings and develop coping skills. It can also help to reduce stress and anxiety and create a more positive outlook. In this article, I explore art therapy, design thinking, and how the two can be used together to benefit clients and students alike.

What is Design Thinking?

Design thinking is a creative approach to problem-solving that combines the practical with the imaginative. It is a process of developing solutions to problems using creative techniques such as brainstorming, prototyping, and testing. Design thinking encourages divergent thinking, which is the ability to devise multiple solutions to a problem. It also encourages collaboration, which can help to develop more innovative solutions.

Design thinking addresses complex problems and is a valuable tool in art therapy, as it can help clients to explore their feelings and create new possibilities for self-expression.

What is Art Therapy?

Art therapy is a form of psychotherapy that utilizes art-making and creative expression to help individuals explore and process their emotions. It can be a powerful experiential form of psychotherapy that encourages expression, understanding, and healing. This therapeutic technique helps clients gain insight and self-awareness and develop coping skills. It also creates a safe space to explore and express feelings that may be difficult to verbalize. Art therapists are trained to create a therapeutic environment where clients can explore their emotions and make meaning of their experiences.

Art therapy combines visual arts with psychological theory, providing an effective route to emotional healing and self-reflection. It is typically used with clients dealing with mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression, or trauma. However, it can also benefit those struggling with social skills, self-esteem, or communication difficulties. 

Using Design Thinking to Inform Art Therapy

Design thinking informs art therapy in a variety of ways. Research shows that design and art can have therapeutic effects where clients embrace ambiguity, learn to make sense of difficult emotions, and promote emotional well-being.

  1.     Design thinking can help clients explore their emotions. Clients gain insight into their thoughts and feelings by engaging in creative thinking and problem-solving. They can also use design thinking to develop new ways to express themselves and explore their emotions.
  2.     Design thinking helps clients develop coping skills. By engaging in creative problem-solving, clients can develop strategies to manage their emotions and cope with difficult situations. Design thinking can also help clients build self-care and emotional intelligence skills, which can be valuable tools for managing mental health issues.
  3.   Design thinking can help clients develop creative solutions to problems. This can be especially beneficial for those struggling to understand past traumas. Using creative problem-solving techniques, clients can develop innovative solutions to their problems and new ways of thinking.
  4. Design thinking can help clients develop a positive self-image. By engaging in creative problem-solving, clients can gain confidence in their abilities and develop a more positive view of themselves. This can help reduce feelings of anxiety and depression and create a more optimistic outlook.
  5.     Finally, design thinking can help clients develop creative self-care practices. By engaging in creative problem-solving, clients can build new ideas for self-care, such as creating art, journaling, or engaging in mindful activities. This can help to reduce stress and create a more positive mindset.

Design as a Form of Healing in the Classroom

Design thinking can also be a valuable tool for self-care. Students can generate new ideas for personal growth and develop a positive self-image by engaging in creative problem-solving. This can help to reduce stress and create a more optimistic mindset. We often forget the power of art and how it can serve as a tool to express ourselves and heal. There are a number of ways educators can incorporate the therapeutic powers of art and design in the classroom.

  1.   Journaling — This can be done either by keeping a visual journal, where pictures and images express thoughts and feelings, or by keeping a written journal and using art to illustrate the entries. Journaling is a valuable way to process difficult emotions and events. It can also be a way to reflect on positive experiences and record gratitude.
  2.     Dedicated Space for Creativity — Educators can use art therapeutically by creating a dedicated classroom space where students can express themselves creatively. This may look like setting up a table with art supplies or hanging up blank canvases or sheets of paper for students to use. Students can use the space to create artwork when they feel overwhelmed or stressed to express their emotions. It can also help students relax, unwind, and appreciate the creative process.

By engaging in the design thinking process and creating artwork together, educators can create a safe and supportive space for students to express themselves. In addition, working collaboratively in a creative environment can help build trust and foster feelings of mutual respect. 

Overall, design thinking can be a powerful tool for art therapy. By combining the practical with the imaginative, art therapy can help clients explore their emotions and develop coping skills. It can also help to reduce stress and create a more positive outlook.

Consider using design thinking as art therapy to help students with emotional issues or self-care. By combining art-making with design thinking, art therapy can help students explore their emotions, develop coping skills, and create a more positive outlook on life.

Suggestions for Further Reading

How Design Makes Us Think: And Feel and Do Things by Sean Adams
The Soul’s Palette: Drawing on Art’s Transformative Powers by Cathy Malchiodi
Art Heals: How Creativity Cures the Soul by Shaun McNiff

About Author:

Catie-Reagan Palmore, Ed.D., is a recent graduate of Baylor University’s Learning and Organizational Change doctoral program. Her dissertation explored the role the fine arts play in university students’ development of 21st-century skills. She received an M.S. in Strategic Design and Management from Parsons School of Design, a B.A. in Theatre Arts from Virginia Tech, and a Women in Leadership certificate from Cornell University. Her research interests include interdisciplinary arts integration, design thinking, and visual culture. Currently, she serves as a Therapeutic Art Instructor at an eating disorder residential treatment center.

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