Published On: July 11, 2014

“What is Art Therapy?” is the most common question asked of those who are Art Therapists. It is often followed up with, “Is that when you fix paintings?” or “Do you talk to paintings?” I usually respond to these questions with a smile and say, “It is a form of counselling, but I get my clients to create works of art to help them express what they are going through.”

So What is Art Therapy?

Art Therapy is an alternative to verbal (talking) therapy, which allows you to access your thoughts and feelings in a different way than verbal therapy would. This form of therapy deals with all of the same issues as conventional verbal therapies. It uses the creative process of art-making to improve the physical, mental and emotional well-being of people of all ages. What makes this therapy unique is that art provides many opportunities for insight, which creates more possibilities for healing and over-coming obstacles to personal growth. Like other forms of therapy or counselling, Art Therapy can help with your concerns and goals.

Who Uses Art Therapy?

Art Therapy is most commonly thought to be only for children as it is similar to, and often associated with Play Therapy. Although it is true that Art Therapy is very successful with children, it is also extremely effective with people of all ages from all walks of life, as creating things is a universal activity. It is especially helpful for people who are not comfortable with verbal counselling, or those who have difficulty finding the words to express what they are going through. Art Therapy is used to help children, teens, adults, seniors, couples, families, and groups; it is beneficial to anyone!

What Does Art Therapy Help With?

Art Therapy can help with all of the same issues, goals, and concerns that you would take to any other type of counsellor. It is used to help with recognizing and managing emotions, monitoring moods and thoughts. Many Art Therapists treat those who are struggling with depression, stress, and anxiety. Art Therapy can help with life transition, family disputes, and relationship issues of all kinds. It helps with skill building, identity issues, and self-esteem. It is successful with dealing with violence, trauma, PTSD, abuse, and anger management. Art Therapy is used to help with loss, grief, illness, addiction. It can also help people to center themselves, and go through a process of self-discovery. Art Therapy gives voice to the issues in life that sometimes there are no words to express.

Does Art Therapy Require Skill/Knowledge of Art?

No! You don’t have to have a background in painting or drawing to participate in Art Therapy or for it to help you. It is designed to help promote healing and insight, not to create artistic masterpieces. The point of Art Therapy is to help you understand your emotional experiences through making art. Often people who have no experience in art benefit greatly from Art Therapy because they learn new skills and discover hidden talents.

What Does an Art Therapy Session Include?

Art Therapy uses multiple therapeutic techniques depending on the Therapist’s skill with the technique and your needs. Some of the techniques (to name a few) used by Art Therapists include; psychoanalysis, CBT, Person-centered Therapy, Solution-focused Therapy, Family Systems, Narrative Therapy, etc.

An Art Therapy session uses therapeutic art-making; where you would be asked to create art work combined with talking to the Therapist, during which the Therapist would employ one of the techniques mentioned above. In a session the Therapist could ask you to draw, paint, or sculpt something specific, or you may even be allowed to create whatever you feel like creating in the session. An Art Therapist might offer suggestions or themes based on what you came in for counselling about. Sometimes an Art Therapist may notice that their client is in emotional distress before the session and suggest an art direction that will help relieve them of that emotion, other times the Art Therapist will see these feelings arise during the session and suggest an art direction at the end of the session to maintain that particular emotion. The order in which creating a work of art and talking with the Therapist is flexible to allow for the most benefit to you and your needs.

What are the Benefits of Art Therapy?
  • Art Therapy is a non-threating form of therapy because it can address tough issues in an indirect way through the process of creating art.
  • Art work can speak for itself; sometimes the right words are hard to find, or perhaps too difficult to say.
  • Creating art can be a “jumping off” point for a session. Often clients are not sure where to start when they come in for counselling, the art can provide a natural way to ease into a session; this is really helpful for people who have never tried counselling before.
  • Creating art helps to regulate extreme emotions, and can be used to help maintain or manage them as well.
  • It boosts skills, confidence, and self-esteem. Learning to do new things always benefits you; it helps you to feel more confident in your ability to face the world or your problems because you learn that you can do anything you put your mind to.
  • It can be fun. Making art is in general a fun activity, there are times where in a session it might be a little draining, but over-all the process of exploration is fun and interesting.
  • You will learn more about yourself. As you participate in Art Therapy, you will learn a lot of the hidden strengths and talents that you might not have known you had and can learn how to apply these to your life.
  • You can learn more about others. If your therapy includes family, friends, a group, or other; creating artwork with that person(s) can give you some insight as to what they are going through or how they see a situation. This can be used to help resolve conflict.
  • You have a permanent visual record of your feelings and experiences. This allows you to see how far you have come, and what progress you have made in therapy. It is a visual reminder of how you are able to over-come challenges and obstacles, even when you were feeling that progress was not being made.

Connect with Michelle Pennells HBA, DTATI; Art Therapist/Counsellor Bayridge Family Center

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