Reviewing art therapy research: a constructive critique

Author(s):*Listed Alphabetically
Davies L, Harrop D, Kelly S, McClimens A, Peplow D, Pollard N

Year of Publication:

Sheffield Hallam University

Publication Type:


This review from Sheffield Hallam University considered papers reporting therapeutic arts interventions conducted on ‘patients’ which included some measurement of a health state. Research on people less than age 18 was excluded. Studies were selected where participants had active (as opposed to passive) engagement with the therapy/treatment/medium. Only study types which were quantitative were included.

The literature search that informed this review initially yielded 12,122 papers of potential interest, derived from seven databases. After applying a series of filters, 92 papers were then used for the basis of the findings, thoughts and recommendations. The methodological approach was informed by the systematic review guidance published by the Centre for Reviews and Dissemination (2009), and the Arts Council definition of “arts activities”.

The most commonly reported art activities were: writing, music, art and dance. The most numerous health condition studied was mental health followed by cognitive function, stress and cancer. Most research was carried out in the US and the UK. As a discipline, psychology featured regularly. This report found that when arts therapists were involved in the research the descriptions and possible effects of the art medium tended to be better elucidated.
The report recommends that future research into the use of art therapy in healthcare would benefit from a synthesis of approaches that can retain the more robust aspects of, for example, RCTs with the insights that can be derived from qualitative methods.

Evidence Type: Literature Review

Main Focus: Mental Health

Research Purpose: Literature Review

Art Forms: Multi-Arts

Access Type: Free Download

APA Citation:

Kelly, S., Davies, L., Harrop, D., McClimens, A., Peplow, D., Pollard, N. (2015). Reviewing art therapy research : a constructive critique. Project Report. Sheffield: Sheffield Hallam University.