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'Art therapy effective in treating anxiety in women'

On 22 January, Annemarie Madani-Abbing will defend her dissertation 'Art therapy and anxiety' regarding her research into the effectiveness of anthroposophic art therapy in treating anxiety in women. We asked her about her research and what it was like to combine a job outside academia with studying for a doctorate as a Dual PhD candidate.

art therapy and anxiety

What have you discovered?
We have discovered that anthroposophic art therapy, which is one of the arts therapies, is effective in treating anxiety in women and that improvements in emotion regulation and executive functions could play a role in reducing anxiety symptoms.

How did you go about your discovery?
By conducting a two-year impact study in which 59 women participated. Half of whom received individual therapy and half were part of the control group. With the use of questionnaires we measured, for instance, anxiety levels and the regulation of emotions. The research showed that anthroposophic art therapy is very effective, in comparison with those in the control group, when it comes to reducing anxiety symptoms and improving quality of life.

The participants of our research suffer fewer anxiety complaints and they are better able to manage their emotions. They are more satisfied with life and their health, in comparison with those who did not get therapy.

Which question were you hoping to answer with your research?
We wanted to know whether anthroposophic art therapy was effective in treating women with anxiety. And if so, we also wanted to find out in what way the anxiety was reduced: which mechanisms where behind it.

Why did you want to find an answer to that question?
Arts therapies are widely used in Dutch mental health care (ggz). But, until now, very little research had been conducted into their effectiveness. In order to use it (more) efficiently, it is important to know whether this form of therapy is effective, in which way, and which people benefit most.

The research showed that anthroposophic art therapy is very effective when it comes to reducing anxiety symptoms and improving quality of life.

What does your outcome mean for your field/society?
We hope to use the outcome to support the clinical practice. Since we now have (a little) more information on the effectiveness of this therapy, referring GP's, psychologists, psychiatrist and others can use this information to base their referrals on. This research has shown that arts therapies are an intervention that is worth conducting more research into.  

You followed a dual promotion programme, which means that you also had a job outside academia besides your dissertation research. How was it to combine these two? Has your work experience strengthened your research?
I was a researcher and a fund-raiser. As researcher, I was able to devote my time, two days a week, completely to my PhD research. But my tasks as fund-raiser had absolutely no connection with my research. I found the combination of these different tasks with such different dynamics difficult. In the end, I quit working as a fund-raiser and started working as a lecturer for the Arts Therapies programme. As lecturer I had more of an intrinsic link and it enabled me, in collaboration with others, to implement the outcome of my research into our education.

Has the support you were given by the Dual PhD Centre helped you with your promotion? And if so, what was especially helpful? What could have gone better?
In the pre-PhD phase, during my first year, I followed various courses that have proven to be very useful. I have also found the twice-yearly meetings with my mentor and the director of the centre to be very valuable and supportive. There was always a quiet workplace available, which allowed me to really focus on my writing. 

Would you recommend the Dual Promotion programme to others?
It is not easy to be working on your dissertation besides your job and a busy family. It asks a lot of your vitality and mental resilience. I spent a lot of evenings and weekends working in order to get it done within the stipulated time-frame. Which is why it is important that you are very passionate about your chosen subject, that the desire to get to the bottom of things and contribute to an issue from the field truly comes stems from your personal interests and passions. But it is also an investment in yourself, I have really grown because of it.

What are your plans for the near future?
At the moment, I am temporarily expanding my scope to include all the arts therapies, so I am also looking into music, drama, dance, and psychomotor therapy. And as postdoctoral researcher at the Open University, I am researching the evidence gap for arts therapies in forensic youth welfare and forensic psychiatry. As well as continuing to work as lecturer and researcher at the University of Applied Sciences Leiden. We are preparing new research projects on the same topic. It is important to conduct more research in order to compare anthroposophic art therapy with an active control, such as cognitive behavioural therapy.

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