Mental Health Drawing Ideas: Creative Therapy

Written by Dr Lucy Russell DClinPsyc CPsychol AFBPsS
Dr Lucy Russell Clinical Psychologist Founder of They Are The Future
Author: Dr Lucy Russell, Clinical Psychologist

I am not a talented artist. (This is an understatement!)

And yet, I have used art successfully to improve my wellbeing.

It’s really not about the end result, but the process.

I’m a clinical psychologist and I also frequently encourage drawing in therapy sessions when the teens I work with choose to. It helps them express and process their feelings.

Thanks to those young people, I have a “brain full” of amazingly effective mental health drawing ideas which I am going to share with you!

a young woman drawing at a large table

Why Can Drawing Be Good For Mental Health?

Drawing can be a gentle way to explore what’s on your mind or something niggling at you but you don’t fully understand it.

Sometimes, finding the right words feels impossible. But through pictures, you can start to untangle those thoughts and feelings.

This creative process can be a brilliant way to let go of bottled-up emotions too.

Another advantage of drawing is that it can be incredibly soothing for the nervous system.

When you draw, you might find yourself in a ‘state of flow.’ This is when you’re so absorbed in what you’re doing that everything else fades away.

It’s calming and can bring a sense of peace. Basically, it helps you find a quiet space in a busy world.

My Top Mental Health Drawing Ideas

I’m a firm believer that art activities can be a powerful way to support your mental health.

From the ease of doodling to the precision of pencil drawing and the fluidity of painting, and even the modern realm of digital art, you can express your inner world in so many diverse ways.

Please remember, there’s no ‘right’ way to create art. It’s about finding what resonates with you.

Let’s look at some of my favourite mental health drawing ideas for exploring and making sense of what’s going on for you at the moment.

Drawing IdeaDescription
1. Draw Your MindVisualize your mind, capturing thoughts and emotions, perhaps using a metaphor e.g. a bookshop, an ocean.
2. Draw Your Journey (Past or Future)Illustrate your past experiences or future aspirations, imagining it as a journey or path.
3. Draw Your Friendship or Family NetworkMap out your relationships, highlighting connections and the support system around you.
4. Draw Your Strengths as CharactersPersonify your strengths as characters, giving them form and personality.
5. Draw Your Fears as CharactersTurn your fears into characters, making them less intimidating and more manageable.
6. Imagine Your Future SelfCreate a portrait or diagram of who you want to be in the future, reflecting your hopes and dreams.
7. Imagine Your Calm or Happy PlaceDraw or paint a place that brings you peace or joy, a sanctuary for your mind.
8. Create a Collage of Things You Are Grateful ForAssemble images and items that represent what you’re thankful for, a visual gratitude journal.
9. ColouringUse colouring books or sheets to relax and unwind, focusing on the moment and the simple act of colouring.
10. Free Drawing in an Art JournalKeep an art journal for spontaneous drawing, letting your emotions lead you without any constraints.


1. Draw Your Mind

What does your mind feel like right now? A vast ocean? An overgrown garden?

One young client I worked with illustrated their mind as a prison, reflecting how trapped they felt by negative emotions and their current life circumstances.

Another drew their mind as a disordered library, with thoughts scattered around as untidy piles of books, symbolizing the chaos they felt.

These drawings can kick-start meaningful conversations if you decide to share them, or just help you reflect by yourself. For example, if your mind is an overgrown garden, would you prefer it to be a neat an ordered garden, or do you like it as it is? If you want things to change, what would be the first step?

In therapy sessions, we delve into what these images represent about a person’s current state of mind and discuss how they would see a more positive mental landscape.

This exercise can help you identify negative emotions and explore why they are present. Reflection can also help you spot positive emotions and positives about your situation.

By capturing the complexity of their thoughts and feelings at a given moment, you can start to consider the best way forward.

For my young clients that I mentioned earlier, that meant thinking about how their ‘prison’ or ‘jumbled library’ could transform into a happier or less overwhelming space.

hand drawn picture of a person's mind as an overgrown garden

2. Draw Your Journey (Past or Future)

By drawing your journey you can see the growth you’ve achieved, especially through the challenges of mental health. It’s like drawing a map that shows just how far you’ve come.

You can also map out your future journey. For example, if you have a challenging year ahead, you can look at which months might be most challenging, what the challenges could be, and how you might negotiate these.

There are endless ways to map out your journey, for example you could draw it as a winding path, with some of the hurdles you have faced depicted as fallen trees blocking the path. The good times could be drawn as gentle meadows with streams running through, where you can sit for a while and enjoy the peaceful sunshine.

We often get so caught up in the day-to-day that we forget our progress. That’s why I encourage people to visually map out their journey. It gives you a clear picture of the strides you have made and the hurdles you have overcome.

This exercise is about recognizing your strength and resilience.

Seeing your journey laid out can boost your sense of achievement, reminding you of the obstacles you’ve navigated and the person you’ve become through those experiences.

3. Draw Your Friendship or Family Network

This is a fantastic way for you to map out the connections with your friends and family members. This can help you navigate and problem-solve relationship dynamics.

You might choose to represent each person as a different symbol or colour, showing the various types of relationships you have.

Lines can indicate the nature of your connection with each person. For instance, thick lines for strong bonds, dotted ones for those that are more distant or complicated.

This visual approach is a unique way to see how you fit into your social world. It can highlight who your main supports are, where there might be tensions, and where connections could be strengthened.

By laying it all out, you can use your problem-solving skills to work through issues or misunderstandings within your network, leading to a deeper understanding of your social situations and relationships.

someone's visual representation of their friends and family network

4. Draw Your Strengths as Characters

Drawing your strengths as characters is a fun way to bring your inner qualities to life.

Imagine your resilience as a superhero or your kindness as a nurturing figure – perhaps a furry, friendly monster!

This activity is a form of emotional expression that can be particularly uplifting if you’re battling low self-esteem.

By personifying your strengths, you give them a voice and a story. 

This can be a playful method to acknowledge and celebrate the positive aspects of yourself that you might overlook.

It’s an opportunity to see your qualities in a new light and to appreciate the unique “flavour” each one brings to your life.

This creative exercise allows you to engage with your strengths actively, reinforcing their presence and power in your life. It’s a reminder that you possess a diverse cast of strengths that support and guide you, especially during challenging times.

someone's sketch of their strengths represented by friendly monsters

5. Draw Your Fears as Characters

By drawing your fears as characters you can name and bein to understand the fears that hold you back.

By giving form to your fears, sketching them out as characters, you take the first step in diminishing their power over you.

This activity turns something that can be scary and overwhelming into something you can see, analyze, and even talk to.

Imagine drawing your fear of failure as a shadowy figure lurking in the background, or your anxiety as a tangled knot. This is a therapy technique called “externalizing” and the idea is that it makes your fears less daunting and more manageable by separating it from you.

Drawing your fears is a gentle way to acknowledge and gently start to face fears ratherthan avoid them.

someone's sketch drawing of their fears

6. Imagine Your Future Self

Imagining your future self is a great way to channel your creative energy into picturing the life you aspire to lead.

For the first time, you might see possibilities and paths that were previously obscured by the routine of daily life.

This exercise encourages you to think beyond current limitations and to paint a picture, literally, of who you want to become.

Whether it’s a more confident, peaceful, or accomplished version of yourself, putting this vision on paper makes your future self feel more attainable.

The act of imagining and drawing your future self can be incredibly motivating. It’s a reminder of your potential and the direction you wish to head in.

a woman standing still at the edge of a lake

7. Imagine Your Calm or Happy Place

Did you know that you can create a piece of art that serves as a sanctuary from anxious and negative thoughts? A visual refuge that you can turn to whenever you need a moment of peace.

Think of your favourite place or a made-up scene that brings you joy and tranquility.

It could be a serene beach at sunset, a cozy corner of your home, or a landscape filled with your favorite flowers.

As you bring this place to life on paper, you’re embedding positive emotions and memories into your creation.

This process gives you a way to shift your focus away from stress and towards a sense of calm. Once complete, why not put your calm or happy place picture somewhere prominent so it can help you whenever you need it?

Each time you glance at your artwork, you’ll reminded of the peace and happiness that’s possible.

someone's painting of their "happy place"

8. Create a Collage of Things You Are Grateful For

Creating a gratitude collage is going to make you much more aware of the good things in your life. Scientific research tells us that acknowledging good things in our daily life can reduce negative feelings and enhance our overall well-being.

By selecting images, words, and items that represent what you’re thankful for, you’re constructing a visual reminder of the abundance in your life. This could be anything from family and friends to smaller joys like a favorite book or a peaceful walk.

The act of creating this collage encourages you to pause and reflect on the positives, which can often be overshadowed by the hustle and challenges of daily life.

This is going to shift your focus towards a more optimistic outlook, especially if you look at your collage regularly.

Your gratitude collage could even make it easier for you to navigate through tough times, because it gratitude contributes to a sense of resilience.

a motjer's gratitude collage

9. Colouring

Colouring, often seen as a simple and meaningless thing to do, holds more depth than you might initially think.

The colours you select can be a direct reflection of your mood, serving as a non-verbal way to express your current emotional state.

This activity, popularized through adult coloring books, genuinely offers a soothing escape from the complexities of daily life.

Engaging in colouring, or any creative activities you enjoy, can lead to what’s known as a ‘flow state’—a deeply immersive experience where time seems to stand still.

This state is not only calming but also beneficial for your mental health, providing a break from the constant stream of thoughts and worries.

Starting with a blank piece of paper or a predetermined design, coloring allows you to focus solely on the task at hand, encouraging mindfulness and present-moment awareness.

The repetitive motion and the simplicity of the task can help quiet your mind.

close up of a woman colouring in a book

10. Free Drawing in an Art Journal

Free drawing in an art journal is a powerful tool for tracking your emotional journey over time. It’s private and unstructured, so you have the freedom to draw literally anything that’s on your mind.

Whether it’s a sad doodle on a tough day or a series of random doodles that capture a moment of joy, you’re capturing snapshot of your feelings at that point in time.

This form of creative expression doesn’t require perfection or even coherence.

The best part?

It’s all about letting your emotions guide you.

You might find that what starts as an aimless scribble evolves into a meaningful piece of art that speaks volumes about your inner state.

Adding to your art journal on a regular basis turns it into a visual diary. This is going to give you insights into your emotional patterns and triggers.

Reflecting on your past entries can give you clarity and understanding, helping you to navigate your feelings with greater awareness and compassion in the present and future.

teen boy drawing in an art journal

Therapeutic Support From a Professional

While drawing is a powerful avenue for self-exploration, there are times when professional help is necessary.

An art therapist (or a clinical psychologist who encourages art like me) can provide a safe space to delve deeper into your art, helping you understand and navigate your emotions more effectively. If we have complex mental health difficulties, it’s not always possible to feel better without someone to guide us and help is make sense of what’s happening.

If you find your sketches consistently veer towards darkness or provoke troubling thoughts, it’s a clear signal to seek additional support.

Remember, reaching out for professional help is a step towards feeling better.

Mental Health Drawing Ideas: My Final Reflections

Whilst words can be incredibly powerful, drawing can express things that words can’t.

I want to encourage you to use art to explore your inner world, whether you consider yourself “good at art” or not. It doesn’t matter.

I hope I have convinced you of the power of drawing for positive mental health!

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Dr Lucy Russell is a UK clinical psychologist who works with children and families. Her work involves both therapeutic support and autism assessments. She is the Clinical Director of Everlief Child Psychology, and also worked in the National Health Service for many years. In 2019 Lucy launched They Are The Future, a support website for parents of school-aged children.

Through TATF Lucy is passionate about giving practical, manageable strategies to parents and children who may otherwise struggle to find the support they need.

Lucy is a mum to two teenage children. She lives in Buckinghamshire with her husband, children, rescue dog and three rescue cats. She enjoys caravanning and outdoor living, singing and musical theatre.

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