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Art Therapy Questions for the Elderly Classes

Updated on October 3, 2019
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Denise has been studying and teaching art and painting for 40+ years. She has won numerous prestigious awards for her art and design.

Me teaching an outdoor watercolor class for the elderly
Me teaching an outdoor watercolor class for the elderly | Source

My Classes

I often get questions about my watercolor classes for senior citizens and requests for help in starting painting classes all over the world. I’m very excited when people tell me they want to start offering these benefits for the elderly in their community because it is so essential for their well-being and so uplifting. I have added a few questions and answers I received about how I did it.

It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.

— Henry David Thoreau
My step-by-step process.
My step-by-step process. | Source

First Questions

I am S… from Mumbai, India. I am practicing art and taking classes these last 10 years. I want to start this kind of activity especially for senior citizens but I wasn’t able to plan it properly. I did this on an individual level. Your article really helped me. It would be great if you can throw some light on a few issues.

1. How to persuade the elders to this activity

2. How to explain them and their family about the therapeutic values of art

3. Painting helps or coloring (pencil)

4. How can we relate a person’s art with his/her state of mind?

1. Encourage Participation

Hi S…,

I’m so happy you want to do this for the elderly in your community. I’d love to answer your questions for you.

  1. Make it look inviting. Explain that no one expects a masterpiece and promise that you will give step by step instructions. I make a sample at home so that I know the steps myself. Then they have something to look at and know where we are going. I bring the paper already drawn in pencil so all they have to do is sit down and paint. I start them with the very basics that the average watercolor artist takes for granted. I explain that watercolor needs water. That seems so elementary to most of us seasoned artists, but the elderly have no idea what to do. So I showed them how to wet the brush and then wet the paint and begin.

Doing what you love is the cornerstone of having abundance in your life.

— Wayne Dyer
They all seem to enjoy it.
They all seem to enjoy it. | Source

2. Therapeutic Value

As for the therapeutic value, you don’t really have to explain much other than they will have fun. After a while, they will discover how calming it is, how much they feel accomplished and proud. Many explained to me that they had a reason to leave their room and get out in the world because they were going to paint today. Their dexterity improves without them noticing and eye to hand coordination improves also. Most experience a leveling of blood pressure and some even feel their vision improved. The creative side of the brain is strengthened and they don’t notice it but it helps things like Parkinson’s and tremors. One woman felt her memory was better and her Alzheimer’s improved but I don’t know how you could actually measure that. In some ways, it’s an attitude thing. Their attitude improves so they feel their health has as well, and so it does.

Some hadn't held a paint brush since Kindergarten.
Some hadn't held a paint brush since Kindergarten. | Source

Before a child talks they sing. Before they write they draw. As soon as they stand they dance. Art is fundamental to human expression.

— Phylicia Rashad

3. Coloring vs Painting

I’m not sure what you are asking with this “painting helps or coloring (pencil)” but I think you may be asking if coloring in a coloring book is the same or similar. I think coloring books are helpful for the elderly in similar ways but there is something very fast and special about painting over using colored pencils. Like petting a puppy, the brush pets the paper and is calming. The watercolor is faster and cheaper.


4. Color Theory

If you haven’t studied Art Therapy you can only relate the most simplistic parts of color to the person’s state of mind. I have discovered that certain colors do indicate a state of mind. Painting with lots of black usually indicates depression or a dark mood. Painting with lots of dark colors is depressing and sometimes angry. Painting with red is sometimes angry but sometimes an indication of passion. Painting with blue is very calming, yellow is happy and uplifting, and orange has a very educational feel. You feel smart with orange. Green is also calming and somewhat invigorating. It also makes you feel hungry. This is probably why many restaurants use green carpeting. Where all this gets confusing is when you mix the colors. I like to use lots of calming and invigorating colors in a painting with splashes of shadow and red for pop. Study color theory to get more ideas.

This is only a quick answer to your questions.

A good teacher can inspire hope, ignite the imagination, and instill a love of learning.

— Brad Henry
I like to dress up a little, wearing a hat to class so the seniors feel I care.
I like to dress up a little, wearing a hat to class so the seniors feel I care. | Source

A Degree In Art Therapy

From E.

Hello. I'm just wondering if you are actually an art therapist. You may not be aware of this but if you don't have a degree in art therapy you really shouldn't be calling your art classes "art therapy".

Dear E,

Yes, I was aware and I didn’t call my classes “art therapy” at the time. But let’s face it, it WAS art therapy and still is. When I started these classes for the elderly, I did not have a master’s degree in art, however, I do now. I doubt that I would have changed a thing in the way I presented the classes or in the responses I made to my elderly clients anyway. These classes were advertised as watercolor classes with me (an artist) as a teacher and that is all. The therapy is in the art not in the name. I saw some remarkable transformations in these lovely people. I have always known the benefits of art in schools, in education, in mood, and in motivation, but I was still amazed daily by the attitude change in many of my elderly friends. They would come in angry, frustrated by their own physical and mental limitations, and leave feeling life was good and they could handle anything. Just that is worth the term “art therapy.” I am not a psychologist or licensed counselor either, but I witnessed people who came to my classes because they were able to engage in conversation, tell what was wrong with their world for one hour and go home feeling better. One woman told me it was the cheapest psychology visit in town. Maybe, maybe not. But they usually felt like it was so and so for them it was.

The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.

— Pablo Picasso
They love the one-on-one help.
They love the one-on-one help. | Source

Final Thoughts

These painting classes were meant to be just that, painting classes with senior citizens. When you approach it like that the art therapy develops on its own. The seniors will benefit from any positive attention and creative endeavor you bring for them. Let me know your thoughts and suggestions in the comments below.


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