Art therapy for schizophrenia or schizophrenia-like illnesses

Most people with schizophrenia or schizophrenia-like illnesses will be treated with medication, although on average, 5-15% will continue to experience symptoms in spite of this. This review explores whether art therapy, one of a number of creative therapies, could be beneficial when used in addition to medication. The British Association of Art Therapists definition of Art Therapy is "the use of art materials for self-expression and reflection in the presence of a trained art therapist. Clients who are referred to art therapy need not have previous experience or skill in art, the art therapist is not primarily concerned with making an aesthetic or diagnostic assessment of the client's image. The overall aim of its practitioners is to enable a client to effect change and growth on a personal level through the use of art materials in a safe and facilitating environment." It has proved to be difficult to estimate how widely this intervention is available. However, there are descriptions of its use with people with schizophrenia, individually and in groups, in inpatient and outpatient settings as well as in the private sector.

Unfortunately we only found two randomised controlled trials that studied the use of art therapy for people with schizophrenia. Both studies did not include enough participants to make the results meaningful and we were unable to draw clear conclusions regarding the benefits or harms of art therapy from these studies. More research is needed to determine the value of art therapy in this population.

Authors' conclusions: 

Randomised studies are possible in this field. Further evaluation of the use of art therapy for serious mental illnesses is needed as its benefits or harms remain unclear.

Read the full abstract...

Many people with schizophrenia or schizophrenia-like illnesses continue to experience symptoms in spite of medication. In addition to medication, creative therapies, such as art therapy, may be helpful. Art therapy allows exploration of the patient's inner world in a non-threatening way through a therapeutic relationship and the use of art materials. It was mainly developed in adult psychiatric inpatient units and was designed for use with people for whom verbal psychotherapy would be impossible.


To review the effects of art therapy as an adjunctive treatment for schizophrenia compared with standard care and other psychosocial interventions.

Search strategy: 

We updated the search of the Cochrane Schizophrenia Group's Register (February 2005), hand searched reference lists and 'Inscape' (the Journal of the British Association of Art Therapists), and contacted relevant authors.

Selection criteria: 

We included all randomised controlled trials that compared art therapy with standard care or other psychosocial interventions for schizophrenia.

Data collection and analysis: 

We reliably selected, quality assessed and extracted data from the studies. We excluded data where more than 50% of participants in any group were lost to follow up. For continuous outcomes we calculated a weighted mean difference and its 95% confidence interval. For binary outcomes we calculated a fixed effects risk ratio (RR), its 95% confidence interval (CI) and a number needed to treat (NNT).

Main results: 

The search identified 61 reports but only two studies (total n=137) met the inclusion criteria. Both compared art therapy plus standard care with standard care alone. More people completed the therapy if allocated to the art therapy group compared with standard care in the short (n=90, 1 RCT, RR 0.97 CI 0.41 to 2.29), medium (n=47, 1 RCT, RR 0.34 CI 0.15 to 0.80) and long term (n=47, 1 RCT, RR 0.96 CI 0.57 to 1.60). Data from one mental state measure (SANS) showed a small but significant difference favouring the art-therapy group (n=73, 1 RCT, WMD -2.3 CI -4.10 to -0.5). In the short term, a measure of social functioning (SFS) showed no clear difference between groups in endpoint scores (n=70, 1 RCT, WMD 7.20 CI -2.53 to 16.93) and quality of life, as measured by the PerQoL, did not indicate effects of art therapy (n=74, 1 RCT, WMD 0.1 CI -2.7 to 0.47).