Painting, drawing, or working with clay can help ease symptoms of OCD when you combine that with other forms of therapy.

Imagine spending an hour or more working with clay to craft pottery. Or, dipping your fingers in paint to create a picture worthy of hanging on the refrigerator.

Using art to express yourself may offer more than simply an enjoyable hobby. It can also have therapeutic benefits.

If you have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), art therapy can help soothe your intrusive thoughts and offer other valuable benefits such as reducing anxiety and boosting mood.

There’s not much existing literature that art therapy can help treat symptoms of OCD.

But research from 2021 suggested that art therapy, mainly including painting and drawing, can help ease symptoms of anxiety and depression — both of which commonly co-occur with OCD.

A 2020 research review noted that more than 50% of people with OCD will meet the criteria for major depressive disorder in their lifetimes. More than 75% of people with OCD will meet the criteria for an anxiety disorder, according to a 2015 article.

OCD and anxiety disorders often have overlapping symptoms, such as excessive fear and anxiety. Until the most recent version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, mental health professionals defined OCD as a type of anxiety disorder. They now classify it as a separate condition.

Anxiety disorders that often co-occur with OCD include:

According to the American Art Therapy Association, the benefits of art therapy include:

  • increasing self-awareness
  • reducing distress
  • enhancing emotional resilience
  • advancing memory and thinking functions

One of the main benefits is that you don’t have to be an artist or have creative talents to do art therapy. The process of creating art itself can be beneficial.

When you have OCD, art therapy can help provide symptom relief when you combine it with other therapy treatments.

People living with OCD often experience persistent or intrusive thoughts (obsessions) that urge them to perform certain repetitive behaviors (compulsions).

Exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy, which is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy, is usually the most effective and has the strongest research supporting its use, according to the International OCD Foundation.

ERP works by exposing you to the source of your intrusive thoughts and providing tools to help you refrain from responding with a compulsive action.

Art therapy may help with ERP. You may be asked to draw your intrusive thoughts or a representation of them as a form of exposure. This might help ease the feelings of anxiety related to these thoughts.

As therapy continues, you might draw more explicit or scary images to increase tolerance.

For children, drawing their thoughts may help reveal more than they have the capacity to communicate.

Art therapy can include many types of creative expression, such as:

  • drawing
  • painting
  • working with clay
  • finger painting
  • carving
  • doodling and scribbling
  • sculpting
  • making collages

Treatments for OCD often include medication and other forms of therapy. You can combine art therapy with these treatments, which may be helpful for reducing anxiety-related symptoms of OCD.

Along with other mindfulness practices, art therapy can help soften the depth of the symptoms you feel.

You can do art anywhere, even at home.

But to experience the therapeutic benefits of art therapy, consider working with licensed professionals specializing in art therapy.

Some materials, such as paint and clay, or color types may act as triggers, making your symptoms worse. Working with a professional can help prevent this from happening. These professionals may work in:

  • private practices
  • schools
  • medical facilities
  • mental health clinics
  • other settings

It’s possible to incorporate art therapy into many modes of counseling, including:

  • individual therapy
  • group sessions
  • marital therapy
  • family counseling

You can use the Art Therapist Locator through the American Art Therapy Association to find an art therapist near you. You can also check with your insurance provider to find out about treatment options and support groups available near you.

If you have OCD and work with a mental health professional already, consider asking them how art therapy can enhance your current treatment plan.

They may be able to recommend therapists who specialize in art therapy.