Generative AI Art as a Therapeutic Tool

Nettrice Gaskins
4 min readApr 12, 2024
Yesterday’s everyday: Midjourney + Deep Dream Generator

My life during the nearly three-year Covid-19 lockdown was made bearable through the creation of generative AI images. Every day since 2016 I had been making and sharing non-prompt based AI art using “deep dream” neural image style transfer. When Gen AI tools like Dall E and Midjourney were released we were in the middle of the lockdown. I spent hours experimenting with prompts, eventually landing on the Midjourney Discord server. It was text at first, then text and images (as prompts).

Trained on clinical data, generative AI could aid in psychiatric diagnosis, medication management, and psychotherapy. The technology could act as a patient-facing chatbot or back-end assistant that provides the physician with insights garnered from its large language model (LLM) processing capabilities.” — Ashley Andreou

Early Midjourney + color interaction (theory)
Early Midjourney + Toni Morrison’s “Song of Solomon” (inspiration)

Generative AI analyzes patterns in data from across the web, forming complex mathematical and computational formulations, to produce human-like text and imagery. Long before researchers were looking at AI apps like ChatGPT to help craft therapeutic responses, I was immersed in the translation of ideas and concepts into style references and prompts. What I discovered in this process was how the GenAI app output changed my mood: from a space of ideation or imagination to visualization.

ChatGPT’s absent humanity is at the crux of its limited ability to autonomously provide psychotherapy. In the words of the psychiatrist, Phil Stutz, the common denominator of the human experience is pain, uncertainty, and constant work– none of which ChatGPT has felt. — Ashley Andreou

Midjourney v6

The use of generative AI art as a therapeutic tool has been less well considered. However, we do know that one of the main goals of art therapy is to use the creative process to help people explore self-expression and, in doing so, find new ways to gain personal insight and develop new coping skills. What a lot of people don’t know about me is I was hospitalized for being at-risk (mentally) when I was almost 13 years old. I spent 4 weeks in a two-week intensive inpatient program that included art therapy.

Midjourney v6

Art can provide a creative outlet for expressing and processing emotions, particularly those that are difficult to put into words. However, with generative AI, it is often the right combination of words that can lead to the creation of expressive images. When I’m having a particular dark or low day, I find ways to use GenAI to create images that counter that energy. There is increasing evidence in the field of neuroscience that art enhances brain function by impacting brain wave patterns, emotions, and the nervous system. Art can raise serotonin levels. These benefits don’t just come from making art, they also occur by experiencing art.

Midjourney v6 + Deep Dream Generator

In a study conducted by Professor Semir Zeki, chair in neuroaesthetics at University College London, participants underwent brain scans while being shown images of paintings by major artists. The study found that when people viewed the art they thought was most beautiful, blood flow increased by as much as 10% to the reign of the brain associated with pleasure — the equivalent to looking at a loved one.

Deep Dream Generator (deep image style transfer)

Art accesses many of the advanced processes of the human brain, such as intuitive analysis, expressivity, and embodied cognition. Artists are often better observers and have better memory, and this may be due to how art affects the brain’s plasticity. As I practiced applying different image styles to source images (ex. Deep Dream) I was also anticipating results that was teaching me a new visual language. The process was increasing my brain’s neuroplasticity and helping me to cognitively reframe the situation(s) I was in such as during Covid-19 lockdown.

Neuroplasticity (brain plasticity) refers to the brain’s ability to modify itself to adapt to different experiences, and fine-tune its connections based on what functions are used most often. It is important because it allows for optimized brain function and helps a person to gain new skills. Through generative AI art I was able to gain skills, as well as create a different response to things outside of my control.



Nettrice Gaskins

Nettrice is a digital artist, academic, cultural critic and advocate of STEAM education.