What is Art therapy?
Art therapy is a form of expressive therapy that uses the creative process of making art to improve a person’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being. The creative process involved in expressing one’s self artistically can help people to resolve issues as well as develop and manage their behaviors and feelings, reduce stress, and improve self-esteem and awareness.
Art as Empowerment: The Virtue of Art Therapy
Art provides many opportunities to express ourselves and help us make sense of the complex world around us.
Ann E. Lawton believes that art has the potential to heal, transform and empower individuals and communities.
Art can heal PTSD's invisible wounds | Melissa Walker
Trauma silences its victims, says creative arts therapist Melissa Walker, but art can help those suffering from the psychological wounds of war begin to open up and heal. In this inspiring talk, Walker describes how mask-making, in particular, allows afflicted servicemen and women to reveal what haunts them — and, finally, start to let it go.
Art therapy is a specialized area of mental health that uses art materials and the creative process to explore emotions, reduce anxiety, increase self-esteem, and resolve other psychological conflicts. The American Art Therapy Association states that art therapy can be an effective mental health treatment for individuals who have experienced depression, trauma, medical illness, and social difficulties. Making art in therapy can be a way to achieve personal insight as well as healing.
There’s more to art therapy than simply “drawing your feelings.” Art therapists are trained to lead people through the creative process in a therapeutic way. Just as your doctor may prescribe a medication or behavioral change to aid your physical healing, your art therapist offers art-based therapy interventions that are tailored to your needs. As with every aspect of therapy, the choice to engage with specific types of materials will ultimately be up to you.
“Art washes from the soul the dust of everyday life.” —Pablo Picasso
Q: Do I need art training or experience to participate in art therapy?
A: No art experience is necessary for you. Your art therapist is highly trained in visual art as well as psychology, and he or she will guide you in the process of creating art using specific types of materials. All you need is a willingness to experiment and explore.
Q: What kind of training should my art therapist have?
A: Art therapy is a profession that requires at least a master’s degree in a program with specific art therapy components.
While expressive arts therapists are trained in art therapy, there is also the designation of art therapist whereby the therapist studies only art therapy. There are also associations that offer certification as a supplement to your education, rather than a degree. Many art therapists have an art therapy credential called an ATR that indicates they are registered with the national art therapy credentials board.
Q: What kind of art will I make in art therapy?
A: It depends on your interests as well as the therapeutic benefits of certain types of art for your situation. Art therapy can include a wide range of art materials and processes. Your sessions could potentially include activities such as working with clay, painting, making a mask, creating a visual journal, and assembling a collage. Most often, the focus will be on the process rather than creating a finished art product.
Q: Do I get to keep the artwork that I make in art therapy? Will the art therapist show it to anyone else?
A: Your artwork is your creation and always belongs to you. Some people choose to keep the finished artwork, while others may decide to leave it in the care of the art therapist. Your art therapist will not show your artwork to anyone without your permission. The code of ethics followed by art therapists specifies that an art therapist must safeguard a client’s art creations the same way he/she would protect any other privileged information.
Q: Why are some art materials more appropriate for my situation than others? What does it mean to have an art therapist prescribe an art process for me?
A: Art materials have inherent healing qualities, but some are more appropriate for certain types of situations. For example, there is a therapeutic difference between using colored pencils, which are very dry and controlled, as opposed to watercolor paint, which is extremely wet and difficult to control. Your art therapist has specialized training in assessing which materials to suggest based on the issues you are facing, your frame of mind during the session, and other factors. Art therapists also have an extensive personal background in studio art, making them personally familiar with the use of specific types of art materials so that they can guide you through any difficulties that may arise in the creative process.
Q: Will the art therapist “interpret” my artwork?
A: Art therapists can use a variety of approaches, just as counselors or psychotherapists may utilize different approaches. It is not customary for a therapist to interpret your art. In a humanistic or transpersonal approach to art therapy, the focus will be on the personal meaning that you find within your own creative work, rather than an arbitrary meaning imposed by the therapist. You are the expert on your own artwork and creative process, and the art therapist’s role is to facilitate explorations of your work rather than to analyze or interpret it.
“The art of life lies in a constant readjustment to our surroundings.” – Kakuzo Okakura