Stress Reduction through Art Based Therapies

Anubha Harlalka-Doshi

Aditi Suryanarayan

(For the Partial Fulfillment of the Requirement for the Award of the Degree of MA in Clinical Psychology, Fergusson college, Pune in the year 2009)


The purpose of the research was to study the effect of Arts Based Therapy (ABT) on stress, as a state and trait in employees. There were 21 employees from Saama Technologies who participated in the study. It was a two group pretest-intervention-post-test design with 12 subjects in the experimental group and 7 in the control group. The Smith Stress Symptoms Inventory (SSSI) was administered to both the groups, as the pre-test as well as the post-test. The experimental group attended four sessions of two hours each, of arts based therapy. The sessions included dance therapy, drama and play therapy, visual art therapy and music therapy.

The T- test paired sample indicated there was a statistically significant reduction in stress as a state on all four days on the various parameters (Worry/Negative Emotion, Striated Muscle Tension, Attentional Deficits, Autonomic Arousal / Anxiety, Depression, Interpersonal Conflict / Anger) of the SSSI. Analysis of covariance was applied to the data and results show that there was a drop in stress as a trait on the parameters of Attentional Deficit and Interpersonal Conflict, in the experimental group. However, the reduction in stress was not statistically significant.

Key words:

Arts based therapy, stress symptoms, stress trait, stress state



Stress is a phenomenon that is experienced when a situation is appraised as exceeding the person’s adaptive resources (Lazarus and Folkman 1984).

Arnold and Feldman (1986) define stress as “the reactions of individuals to new or threatening factors in their work environment.” Since our work environments often contain new situations, this definition suggests that stress in inevitable. This definition also highlights the fact that reactions to stressful situations are individualized, and can result in emotional, perceptual, behavioural, and physiological changes

Art as Therapy:

Arts Based Therapy (ABT) is defined as the clinical and evidence-based use of art forms (music, drama and visual arts) to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship. ABT is primarily an art form, practised scientifically, and based on the subtle energy theory. The subtle energy theory states that ‘reality is a perception, based on sensory input and cognition. Change in any of these will lead to a different reality.’ The human brain & subtle energy fields (endocrine system, human bio field) are the basic domains of treatment in ABT. Music, Drama, Movement and Visual art have observable effects on human brain functioning, and its effects can be used therapeutically.


Incidences of stress related problems in organizations are rapidly growing. According to the bio-psycho social model, new age lifestyle diseases are either caused or aggravated due to stress. ABT has been shown to have numerous health benefits, and as stress is a relativistic phenomenon and ABT a powerful inner experience, it could prove to be an effective stress management tool.

Stress is known to increase secretion of substances that directly suppress immune system activities. Research has proven that immune responses can be altered through imagery (in the form of story-telling, painting, visualizations, soundscapes etc.).

In another ongoing research, two Israeli drama therapists in the field of stress and post trauma management, are in Sri Lanka to impart the latest methods of dealing with persons suffering from these conditions after the tsunami. Distancing themselves from the traditional methods of care, they use creative art therapy, therapeutic cards and story telling as methods to train the trainers who will in turn use these methods to assists those suffering from various psychological problems.


14 employees participated from Saama Technology, an IT firm, through convenience sampling to take part in the experiment. There were 12 employees in the experimental group and 7 in the control group. The employees were in the age group of 19 – 35 years of age.

The test used in the study was the Smith Stress Symptoms Inventory (SSSI), developed by Jonathon C. Smith (2002). This inventory uses the state-trait approach and measures stress as a trait and as a state.


  1. The state level of stress is reduced after the intervention of arts based therapy.
  2. The trait level of stress is reduced after the intervention of Arts based therapy, as compared to no-treatment control group.


This study focused on arts based therapy and its effect on stress. It was a two group pre test – post test design, with arts based therapy intervention.

Pre Test and Post Test

The participants were administered the Smith Stress Symptoms Inventory State & Trait on the first and last day and were instructed to answer all the 35 questions before the session. In the rest of the sessions only the state inventory was administered.


There were four sessions of 2 hours each, once a week in the following order:

  • Dance therapy
  • Drama therapy
  • Visual art therapy
  • Music therapy


The present study intended to find out the effects of Arts Based Therapy (ABT) on the levels of stress, as a state and a trait in employees. The subjects who participated in the study were IT employees. There were two hypotheses –

  1. The state level of stress is reduced after the intervention of arts based therapy.
  2. The trait level of stress is reduced after the intervention of Arts based therapy as compared to the no-treatment control group.

Keeping the bio- psychosocial model in mind we believe that stress could be reduced by ABT and that it will differ in the six subtests, for each session. It is interesting to note that the reduction in these aspects varied in each of the four sessions.

In the first two sessions, Dance and Movement Therapy and Drama/Play Therapy were conducted. According to the results, Worry/Negative Emotion, Attention Deficits, Interpersonal Conflict / Anger showed a high statistically significant difference at .01 level and Depression at .05 levels, for both sessions.

For the third session – visual art therapy, the results indicate that Worry/Negative Emotion, Attention Deficits and Striated Muscle Tension, show a high statistically significant difference at .01 level and Interpersonal Conflict / Anger at .05 level. People must have found painting so relaxing that the muscle tension shows a significant drop here and not in the previous two sessions.

The last session was Music and drum therapy. The results showed that Worry/Negative Emotion, showed a statistically significant difference at .05 level. No significant difference in the other parameters was found.

The design of the experiment was to test the reduction in stress level and also make a comparative study of the differences that are reflected in the values of the six sub tests on the four days. The findings are consistent with existing research in this area. Thus the first hypothesis was supported.

The hypothesis stating “the trait level of stress is reduced after the intervention of Arts based Therapy as compared to a no-treatment control group” was not proven.

Analysis of covariance (ANCOVA) was applied to the data with the pretest scores as covariates. Results show that there was a reduction in stress in the experimental group in the aspects of Attentional Deficit (AD) and Interpersonal Conflict (IC). Though there is a reduction in stress with respect to these aspects, the results are not statistically significant. This is possibly because a trait is a relatively stable characteristic of a person. It is deep-rooted and hence difficult to change. Thus just 4 sessions of ABT were not sufficient to reduce stress as a trait of the employees.

In addition to SSSI, qualitative data tools like feedback forms and indicator table were used. According to the feedback analysis the findings were that 65% employees enjoyed dance therapy the most out of all the sessions. All activities were found to be innovative and fun by the employees. 75% employees felt de-stressed and relaxed after the sessions and 92% employees would like to attend such sessions in the future.

After the statistical results are considered and the qualitative data analysis tools analyzed, in the present study, it can be concluded that arts based therapy is successful in reducing stress.


 After the statistical results are considered and the qualitative data tools analyzed it can be concluded that the hypothesis stating that the state level of stress is reduced after the intervention of arts based therapy, is proven. The hypothesis stating that the trait level of stress is reduced after the intervention of Arts based Therapy as compared to a no-treatment control group, was not proven.


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