On Our Mind: Thoughts from Mark & Michelle Dean

Art Therapy in the Workplace: Art Benefits Workers

by Michelle Dean 29-05-2017 | 2:24PDT | Comments (0)


Art can be used to enhance the quality of the workplace for individuals as well as teams of professionals, including utilizing art in the workplace as a means of motivation and inspiration. Taking time to doodle, color, or create images can reduce stress, promote relaxation, and help solve problems. Group art therapy assists individuals in better understanding and valuing their peers. While it takes a trained professional to facilitate group therapy, utilizing art in the workplace among teams or departments of workers can help build connections, partnerships, and morale. Art making becomes a means of getting to get to know one another, identify strengths, and build collegial relationships while honoring individuality. Making art in groups may lead to a greater personal investment in the common goals of the work-group or company as well as the development of enhanced cohesion within the workplace, which may result in higher job satisfaction and increased employee retention.

Art Benefits Workers

For some of the same reasons art therapy is an effective treatment for helping clients improve psychological health, cognitive abilities, and sensory-motor functions making art may be utilized in the workplace to reduce stress and anxiety while increasing energy and focus. Time to engage in art making also assists with being able to recognize alternative perspectives, including identifying new problem-solving solutions. As C. G. Jung said, “Often the hands will solve a mystery (problem) that the intellect has struggled with in vain.” This is why art therapy is especially useful in cases where traditional “talk therapy only” psychotherapy has been ineffectual. This is because art involves the brain and the body in ways that verbal language does not.

When work teams get stuck solving a problem or need help with inter- or intra-personal conflicts, the aid of a qualified art therapist can be an useful investment for a company. For example, helping employees connect with others in a meaningful way, see their importance, and feel their value to the company may lead to a greater sense of satisfaction, self-esteem, and pride in their work while decreasing isolation as well as reduce feelings of depression or burnout. Good work alliances lead to great cohesion and more productive group functioning.

Ways to Incorporate Art into a Workday 

Because creativity is an innate drive, in most workplaces, one can observe creative expressiveness among workers. For example, it may be the nurse that adorns herself in the charms of femininity that expresses her capacity for grace and compassion, the cubicle art that evolves into a personal statement, even the garbage truck adorned with the sanitation workers’ found treasures in a portable shrine. All of these betray the need, and an attempt, to bring humanity into what may be at times an alienable work environment, by necessity or design. Employers are wise to draw upon such creative inclinations by inviting staff into creative decisions about the work setting and to provide opportunities to utilize the natural urge to experiment and create a synthesis of new and diverse ideas. After all, creativity is the germ that sparks new ideas and great inventions, which can be very profitable for some companies.

With regards to bringing art into the workplace, it would vary depending on place and situation. For starters, don’t frown on workers doodling at the next staff meeting. Research has shown that doodlers were able to recall 29% more than their no-doodler counterparts. “Drawing, even in a primitive way, often triggers insights and discoveries that aren’t possible through words alone”. As a daily practice, spending 10 – 30 minutes a day, drawing as an opportunity for mindfulness and relaxation can be helpful as it helps to lower blood pressure.

Additional Ways to Bring Artwork to the Workplace:

  • Before the next sale pitch meeting – visualize and depict the meeting in storyboard fashion (with a beginning, middle, and end goals) so clear communication can happen among the sales team. This will increase the likelihood all sales members are on the same page, both figuratively and literally in the artwork.


  • Before entering the meeting with a potential client, your boss, or your employee – Draw what your ideal outcome of this meeting will be. This work prepares you mentally and allows you to focus on what a successful meeting will look like.


  • Utilize a group art project to build better relations and work teams. For example, take a large piece of paper, draw a circle in the middle and let this represent an island. Have the team problem solve what they would do to survive being shipwrecked on a deserted island if each person could only bring three things. This provides an “out-of-the-box” way of looking at a problem and lets each person bring something valuable to the situation, ensuring the group’s survival. Repeat this but instead of bringing survival items, bring each persons’ strengths. The discussion that ensues may reveal untapped resources that would be helpful in increasing productivity.


  • Make a keepsake for a departing staff member – while having the office sign a card is great, creating a collage that reflects the departing member’s strengths and what will be missed added another layer of personalization to the milestone. This can also be done for work anniversaries and for jobs well done – no need to wait until the staff person is leaving to acknowledge how important they are, let them know today.


These suggestions can serve to enhance the workplace experience and bring more humanity to our daily work and does not require special art skills or talent.

Displaying Art in the Workplace

Public art and having quality art in the workplace are about more than just having pretty pictures on the wall; it can be a form of self-help. Alain de Botton said, “Art helps us suffer more successfully.” What he meant by this is life is full of struggle and suffering; it is an inescapable part of our lives. Art offers us a means to hold the beauty and the ugliness of life simultaneously. It allows opportunities to reflect, understand, grow, and hold hope.

Bringing an Art Therapist to your Workplace

I am frequently called upon to help new professionals start their business or make a transition. As a part

 of this consultation, I have clients draw themselves in their ideal business situation. This includes ideal clients, office space, and what it looks like when they come to work. I am always surprised by the number of people who forget to include themselves in their picture of their ideal business situation. As we talk more about their readiness to start their own business, the omission of themselves in their picture often relates back to their fears or inability to be prepared to launch their careers at this time. Our consultation work then continues to be supportive in putting the pieces together to help them succeed and overcome their fears.

I have used art therapy in the workplace to help resolve interpersonal conflicts among team members and well as promoting self-care among nurses and other healthcare professionals who were faced with stressful work situations.

My husband, business partner, and art therapist, Mark Dean, was a consultant for a

postvention situation in which a workplace experienced a violent crime (fatal shooting). Making art with the guidance of a credentialed art therapist helped employees feel safe again by connecting with one another, share their experiences, and feelings about what had occurred. This intervention led to a sense of renewed trust and safety.


If you think your stress or workplace may benefit from professional help, you can find an art therapist through the American Art Therapy Association’s Art Therapy Locator, or your local chapter of the American Art Therapy Association.


About the Author:

michelle-l-dean-photoMichelle L. Dean, MA, ATR-BC, LPC, CGP is an art psychotherapist and has over 20 years expertise in treating individuals who struggle with addictions, eating disorders, relationship issues, and traumatic experiences. She co-founded of The Center for Psyche & the Arts, LLC with two locations in the Philadelphia area. In addition to her clinical practice, she is an author, artist, supervisor, educator, and consultant. She has several publications her credit, including Using Art Media in Psychotherapy: Bringing the Power of Creativity to Practice (Routledge). Her clinical work has been recognized through many distinguished awards but this is the first time she has had her photographs published in a literary-arts journal. She currently serves on The American Art Therapy Association’s Executive Board as Secretary.

© 2017; All rights reserved, The Center for Psyche & the Arts, LLC; written by Michelle L. Dean, MA, ATR-BC, LPC, CGP, DVATA HLM

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