The Power of Art Therapy

Contributed by: Dennis Fortier, President, Medical Care Corporation

Does art therapy improve the health of people with cognitive disorders?  The literature on this topic is slim but growing, and there is lots of evidence that art therapy enriches lives. 

This video (below) was produce by the Cognitive Dynamics Foundation, an organization with the goal of improving the quality of life for those who are cognitively impaired, and their caregivers, through expressive arts therapies.  The video tells the story of Lester Potts, an Alabama sawmiller who first took to painting after being diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in his 70's.  To the surprise and delight of his family, Lester expressed himself poignantly through his art, even though he had lost much of his verbal communication.

Admittedly, this story is not scientifically conclusive.  We know that every patient is unique and that some respond to certain therapies and others do not.  However, in an age when so much therapy is focused on biology, it is great to be reminded about the complexity of the human condition.  This is a strong dose of anecdotal evidence that sometimes, what is good for the spirit, might be what is most helpful for the body and the brain.  It is a touching testament to the possible power of art therapy.


  1. Dennis,
    Thank you so much for posting your our video and your comments on your blog. I agree with your views. However I would add that I feel more effort and support should be directed toward validating interventions in which there is some evidence to support improvements in quality of life through the engagement of such interventions. Human beings are being marginalized in our current healthcare system, and pic lists, bullet points and coding modifiers have taken their place. We must change this culture from the grassroots up. Personhood remains in those with dementia and Alzheimer's, and its expression may be enhanced by the expressive arts therapies. More research is needed, and should be supported. Thank you again!

  2. I concur with Dr. Potts on this. Some research eggs should be removed from the drug development basket, and redeposited into equally promising baskets in other fields. Especially those fields aimed at treating people, not treating diseases.

  3. Yes! There will soon be a book chapter which reviews all current literature on this subject in the new "Handbook of Geriatric Neurology" which is being published by Prentice-Hall and should be out soon. Angel Duncan (art therapist), Dr. Carol Prickett (music therapist) Dr. Bruce Miller at UCSF and I collaborated on this. You are so right..our center has drifted away from the person to the disease, and needs to drift back. In no way am I proposing less support for research on mechanisms of disease and finding cures. I am simply advocating for more quality of life and caregiver support initiatives.

  4. Thanks for the informative discussion! There is quite a bit in the works, including a chapter by Ms. Duncan on Art Therapy and Alzheimer's disease for Art Therapy and Healthcare [Guilford Press/NYC] and other chapters on TBI and related cognitive issues. As the editor of this new volume it is always interesting to find out about other publishing projects via the Internet. My area is art therapy and trauma and there are some relevant connections between art making and brain function in that realm, too, and some related to memory.

    Kind regards,

    Cathy Malchiodi

  5. I think that it is a great idea to help people with that kind of therapy but they need more proves that it works good enough.