Melissa Evans is a UTS Journalism student, with an interest in reporting on animal rights and social justice issues.
Sitting outdoors in a sunlit garden as bright as the colours of the painting beside her, it is clear to see that art is an important part of Diane Payne's life.
But the 63-year-old, who suffers depression, says she was surprised when she first discovered art therapy.
“I always loved art and it’s always been a part of my life, but when I was struggling to feel better... finding my art therapist [was] one of the best things I [could have] done”, she said.
A recent study into art perception found the therapy has a positive impact on the brain.
Conducted at the University of Vienna, it shows the direct effect of art therapy activities is more powerful than initially understood. Therapists have praised the findings but urge that greater awareness is needed to help more people benefit from the treatment.
With one million Australian adults suffering from depression every year and 45 per cent of the population diagnosed with mental health issues at some point in their lives, Mrs Payne is not alone.
Jose Rey, 23, suffers anxiety and depression. He attends weekly therapy sessions and agrees that this treatment can have a calming effect.
“I’m not much of a talker, sometimes I would get frustrated in my other treatment but [in] my art therapy sessions [there] have been times where I’ve learned about myself in a way I didn’t think I would," he said.
“I still continue with my other treatment and I think doing them together... they complement each other.”
Another study into neuroaesthetics also shows the positive impact art has on the brain. It found that experiencing or viewing art can trigger the release of dopamine, resulting in a brighter mood.
Sydney-based art therapist and counsellor, Petrina Hennessy, says art therapy can be a gentler way to explore a client’s problems.
“For those who aren’t comfortable with talk therapy, it can [help] find the root of their problem," she said.
"It can be uncomfortable talking to a stranger, especially around traumatic issues from childhood."
The brain is a master manipulator... and people are different, some people respond better with visual communication.
Mrs Payne agrees: “The power that it can have is under-acknowledged, which is unfortunate because I know there would be others out there who don’t really respond to, or don’t feel relaxed or ready to open up, when it comes to more mainstream treatments.”
Newtown-based art therapist, Terrye Vaughn, says clients may have tried or had unsuccessful experiences with other treatments before coming to art therapy.
“I have had clients who seek out art therapy as an alternative to the counselling modalities that they have tried previously," she said.
"Some clients have reached an impasse in a modality and want to try something else. Sometimes the art therapy has been an avenue to greater self-knowledge and then the client will continue with art therapy or I might invite them to try another modality.”
Mainstream talking therapies, such as counselling or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, can be stressful for some.
Ms Hennessy has found that the mind isn’t always good at trying to solve issues that may have happened when a person was young.
"When you start talking you might think 'I'm over that now’ or [your mind] might tell you ‘you shouldn’t worry about that'. For a lot of people, it can be traumatic," she said.
Terrye Vaughn agrees.
“I work with adults and children, and both age groups’ responses on the whole have been positive.
Art therapy is a way to externalise that which is internal.
"For example, emotions [and] physical symptoms. Art therapy provides an opportunity to bring these to the outside in order for the client to relate to them.
“In art therapy the page creates a boundary and there is safety within that boundary to explore the issue. The creative process provides an opportunity for clients to gain insight, address conflicts and attain greater self-awareness. This can occur on a conscious or unconscious level.”
Experts have expressed concern that these therapies aren’t readily available or given the acknowledgment that they deserve.
Psychiatrist Adrienne Gould says there can be a prejudice towards these industries.
“Art and music therapy are often seen as add-on or soft therapies, but there is a lot of evidence for the usefulness of those therapies," she said.
"It's a big issue... we all see the benefits of it as being very relaxing. But those therapies aren’t recognised... [they] can give patients another language to communicate with.”
Dr Gould urges that regulation of complementary industries is important, but also says that the growing research around art therapy is paving the way for a better understanding of the treatment.
“There needs to be safety and precautions put in place,” she said.
Diane Payne is hopeful.
“It’s helped me so much... I think it won’t be long before it gets the attention it deserves and then many more people can try it and see if it helps them.”