What is Art Therapy?

Art therapy is a newer form of therapy. It is an integrative mental health practice that is designed to improve the lives of individuals, families, and communities through the process of art-making, creative process, applied psychological theory, and human experience within a therapeutic relationship.

Art therapy should be done by a trained professional of art therapy. This will improve the  effectiveness as art therapists are trained to create art therapy exercises that are designed to not only support you but also to help move deeper into your therapeutic goal.  Art therapists are trained to use their knowledge to support your personal and therapeutic treatment goals throughout treatment. Art therapy has been used to improve cognitive and  sensorimotor functions, help support a better relationship with self-esteem and self-awareness, produce emotional resilience, promote insight, enhance social skills, reduce and resolve conflicts and distress.

Art therapy is a wonderful tool therapists use to help patients interpret, express, and resolve their emotions and thoughts. This is a newer type of therapy and was first established in the 1940s however the practice did not become more widespread till the 1970s. Like other expressive arts therapy, such as dance therapy or music therapy, it draws on creativity.

Inaccurate Use of Term ‘Art Therapy’

Often people mistake  “Art therapy” for things that are not necessarily due  to a lack of knowledge about the profession. However these situations provide an opportunity to offer accurate information and educate the public. This modality must be done by a trained art therapist or it is technically not art therapy. Some products that are mistaken for art therapy are adult coloring books and paint by numbers. Art therapists are not art teachers, their goal is not to make you a better artist but to help you improve your mental state through the use of art.

How Art Therapy Works

Many people ask “What is art therapy and how does it work?” It is all about  expression. The process of creating is the most important thing, not the end product which is why anyone can do it. Often many people shy away due to a fear of not being an artist but this type of therapy is for anyone. It is designed to use the expressive arts as a way for people to understand and respond to their emotions and thoughts with a valuable new perspective, not only that artistic expression is good for mental health as it is often related to relaxation.

During a session, an art therapist works with clients to understand what is causing them distress. Then the therapist guides the client to create art with an art directive that addresses the cause of their issue or explores it further. During a session, art therapists may:

  • Describe the goal of art therapy
  • Explain that clients don’t have to think of themselves as creative or artistic to benefit
  • Help the client choose and use a medium, such as drawing, sculpture, collage, or painting
  • Guide the client through expressing themselves through art, usually by asking questions
  • Discuss the results, both the work of art and what the client felt
  • Plan for another session or for the client to work on their own

Through different mediums and art techniques art therapy engages the mind, body, and spirit in ways that are not dependent on verbal articulation alone. Due to the way it engages the body and mind it causes various symbols to be created through the art process, this process also invites modes of receptive and expressive communication, which can benefit those who have limitations of language.

Who are Art Therapists

Art therapists are clinicians who are trained both in traditional clinical therapy and art therapy. Art therapists work with people of all ages and various populations. All art therapists are required to follow an ethical code. All art therapists are also required to have a master’s level education, as well as engage in supervision hours under a trained professional in order to obtain their license. This prepares them for various populations and gives them the ability to perfect their work.

Where Art Therapists Work

Art therapists work with individuals, couples, families, and groups in diverse settings. Some examples include:

  • Hospitals
  • Schools
  • Veteran’s clinics
  • Private practice
  • Psychiatric and rehabilitation facilities
  • Community clinics
  • Crisis centers
  • Forensic institutions
  • Senior communities

Does Art Therapy Work?

There is growing evidence that art therapy helps conditions such as anxiety and depression, trauma, low self-esteem, PTSD, Bipolar  and similar disorders. It has also been used with those facing terminal illnesses such as cancer and those hospitalized experiencing pain, as well as it has been used with people working to develop effective coping skills, including prison inmates

Many clients are reluctant to explore art therapy because they think that they have to have artistic talent for it to work or see it as “arts and crafts” rather than see it as an effective tool. This mindset can be very limiting and can hinder the  effectiveness for these clients. It is important to go in with an open mind.

Is Art Therapy a Good Fit?

There’s no way to tell for certain whether art therapy is a good fit for any given person. Therapy is not one-size-fits-all, and a client and therapist may need to use multiple different approaches and techniques in order to find what works best for you. However, if a patient is drawn to art or has had trouble expressing with traditional therapy, art therapy may be a wonderful fit for you.

When choosing a therapist it is good to consider the following. As a potential client, ask about:

  • What is the therapist’s experience with your particular mental health concern
  • Which kinds of art the therapist uses
  • How the therapist works with clients with your level of artistic experience
  • What outcomes to expect

Often you should be able to tell in 1-3 sessions if this works for you.

Think Art Therapy Would Benefit You?

If you feel like art may be a good avenue for you to work through your mental health concerns please call our office and ask for Jillian Martino. Jill is our art therapist on staff and would be more than happy to help you work through your concerns through art. Jill specializes in LGBT issues, trauma, children and couples. Contact our office today to set up a free 15 minute consultation.

Jillian Martino, CAT-LP