Effectiveness and mechanisms of the arts therapies in forensic care: A systematic review, narrative synthesis, and meta analysis

Annemarie Abbing*, Suzanne Haeyen, Sashank Nyapati, Peter Verboon, Susan van Hooren

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Introduction: Mental health care provided to offenders with psychiatric problems in forensic settings mainly consists of verbal oriented treatments. In addition, experience-based therapies are used such as (creative) arts therapies: (visual) art therapy, music therapy, drama therapy and dance (movement) therapy. There are indications for effectiveness of arts therapies, but a systematic overview of effect studies of all arts therapies in forensic care is lacking.
Methods: First, we performed a systematic review. Second, Thematic Analysis was used to synthesize the qualitative narrative results and define the hypothesized mechanisms of change. Third, we performed a meta-analysis to investigate the effects of arts therapies in reducing psychosocial problems of offenders. Twenty-three studies were included in the review. Quality and risk of bias was assessed using EPHPP (Effective Public Health Practice Project).
Results: The included studies were heterogeneous in type of outcome measures and intervention characteristics. Synthesis of mechanisms of change involved in the methodical use of the arts in arts therapies resulted in a description of regulatory processes which are stimulated in arts therapies: perceptive awareness (interoceptive and exteroceptive), the regulation of emotions, stress, impulses, cognitions, social regulation, and self-expression. These processes play a role in developing prevention, coping and self-management skills. Eighteen studies were included in the meta-analyses (11 RCTs/CCTs; 7 pre-post studies). The meta-analyses indicated significant effects on both risk factors (psychiatric symptoms and addiction) and protective factors for criminal behavior (social functioning and psychological functioning). Effects on criminal and/or antisocial behavior were not significant, but this outcome measure was scarcely used among the studies.
Discussion: The analyses in this study should be considered explorative. More research is needed to gain more solid conclusions about effectiveness and mechanisms of change of arts therapies in forensic institutions. However, the results of this first systematic review, synthesis of mechanisms and meta-analysis in this field are promising and show effects of arts therapies on risk and protective factors in individuals in forensic institutions.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1128252
Number of pages15
JournalFrontiers in Psychiatry
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • art therapy
  • arts therapies
  • dance therapy
  • drama therapy
  • forensic
  • meta-analysis
  • music therapy
  • systematic review


Dive into the research topics of 'Effectiveness and mechanisms of the arts therapies in forensic care: A systematic review, narrative synthesis, and meta analysis'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this