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Art Therapy & Mental Illness

By: Rachel Fried



Mental illness does not discriminate. It ignores all demographics, all labels, transcends them with a silent bite, and stands as a potent reminder of where we stand internally. 

With the rise of mental illness, anxiety, depression, and the like, a proliferation of therapies have surfaced. Behavioral, cognitive, holistic, psychodynamic, it’s near endless – yet not surprisingly, all are grounded in digging deeper, diving below the surface, away from judgement, jaded preconceptions, the watchfulness of what is and what is not acceptable, in order to unveil the root of it all i.e. the triggers, the stressors, the instability, the pain. With such insight, mental wellness, and all its complexities, its silence and de trop power, still begs the question: how does one cope?

In 2020 there is no short answer, no magic-bullet cure-all, but in the same regard there are options. Creative arts therapy has had a century long career, being recognized clinically nearly 100 years ago, and being professionally instituted in 1991. Today, art therapy is widespread and not limited to just acrylics and canvas – its poetry, and dance, creative writing, and cinema, its visual and interactive, its sensory, and all enveloping, today it’s even slime. 

About six months ago, Sara Schiller and Karen Robinovitz opened Sloomoo Institute in Downtown Manhattan. A self-proclaimed “sensory playground,” the slime museum was established on the very premise of mental health. “A few years ago, I went through a lot of loss,” said Robinovitz over email. “The trauma threw me into a tailspin of depression and anxiety that felt crippling.” A long-time staunch art enthusiast, Robinovitz discovered slime as a salve, “slime brought a smile to my face during a time when a smile seemed impossible.” The rest is written, nearly poetic, Sloomoo was born as a remedy to a cause. 

Although somewhat unconventional, artistic outlets can be just as revealing as more traditional forms of therapy. Art allows people to express emotions that are often too painful and complex to put into words. In the same regard, when someone is at play and immersed in an artistic experience, there is no “right answer.” Expectations and comparisons dim, and the plight of day-to-day nuances, the preoccupations with mental wellbeing, cease as dopamine is released into the brain. Creative mediums endow those at play to assert a sense of control over their activity, in turn stimulating both hemispheres of the brain and enabling a decrease in stress and anxiety, a boost in self-esteem, the subconscious processing of emotions, and a more adept acceptance of personal circumstance – escapism at its best. 

While mental illness doesn’t discriminate, nor does art. Available on impulse, anyone can indulge, anywhere, at any time, and if you travel down to 475 Broadway (Sloomoo Institute) you’ll see art therapy in all its breadth.