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Ask the Mental Health Expert Archives 2001-2004

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Art and Mental Health

Q. We're remodeling our hospital Mental Health units. Do you know where I can find information on how different types of art affect in-patient clients?

A. My literature search turned up essentially no published studies on this question, though I suspect somebody has looked at it. The closest thing I could find was a study looking at reactions to paintings among male and female college students (Polzella DJ, Percept Mot Skills 2000; 91:251-58). One interesting finding was that Impressionist paintings were more pleasing to women than to men; and that paintings that depicted behaviors evoked more pleasure and alertness among women than among men.

Whether these findings would carry over into psychiatric populations, of course, is not clear. There is also a somewhat dubious literature on color theory that seems to be based on Eastern philosophy and metaphysics. It seems to correlate emotional responses with specific colors--but I can't vouch for its validity.

If you are interested, see the website http://www.quinte.net/dream/libr/comp.html ("Canadian Dream Gallery"). You may have better luck, however, by contacting one or both of these organizations, and asking for some advice: The National Coalition of Arts Therapies Associations (NCATA; www.ncata.com) and The American Art Therapy Association, 1202 Allanson Rd, Mundelein, IL 60060. In the mean time, do stay away from Edvard Munch's painting, "The Scream", and good luck with your artistic-therapeutic endeavors!

February 2002

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