About Art Therapy

What is Art Therapy?

According to the American Art Therapy Association, “art therapy is an integrative mental health and human services profession that enriches the lives of individuals, families, and communities through active art-making, creative process, applied psychological theory, and human experience within a psychotherapeutic relationship.”

“Art therapy, facilitated by a professional art therapist, effectively supports personal and relational treatment goals as well as community concerns. Art therapy is used to improve cognitive and sensorimotor functions, foster self-esteem and self-awareness, cultivate emotional resilience, promote insight, enhance social skills, reduce and resolve conflicts and distress, and advance societal and ecological change.” (arttherapy.org)

Who are art therapists?

Art therapists are master-level clinicians who work with people of all ages and all abilities. Guided by high ethical standards and a scope of practice, their education and supervised training prepares them for work with diverse populations in various settings. Art therapists work with people who are challenged with a range of medical and mental health needs, as well as individuals seeking emotional, creative and spiritual growth.

Who Benefits from Art Therapy?

Art therapy is relevant to a wide variety of populations and benefits individuals of all ages. Art therapy programs can be implemented with patients or clients in the following populations:

Alzheimer’s/DementiaMental Health NeedsTerminal Illnesses
Aging-related illnessesMothers in LaborSubstance Abuse
ADD/ADHDNeurological ImpairmentSpecial Needs
AutismPhysical DisabilitiesPremature Infants
Acute/Chronic PainSensory ImpairmentHospitalized Patients
School-Aged Children

Where do Art Therapists Work?

Art therapists can implement programs for groups or individuals in medical, clinical or educational settings including:

Children’s HospitalsCommunity-based Programs
Rehabilitation FacilitiesSenior Living Communities
Outpatient ClinicsDrug and Alcohol Rehabilitation
Mental Health FacilitiesHospice Programs

Therapeutic Qualities of Art

There are many reasons why art is an effective and powerful tool in therapy.  Let’s take a look at a few:

  • According to the AATA, art therapy engages the mind, body, and spirit beyond verbal interaction alone. Kinesthetic, sensory, perceptual, and symbolic opportunities stimulate receptive and expressive communication, which can circumvent the limitations of language. “Visual and symbolic expression gives voice to experience and empowers individual, communal, and societal transformation” (art therapy.org).
  • Because art is so versatile, art therapy interventions can be easily and quickly adapted to meet the immediate needs of the individual. This flexibility allows those with no formal art experience to participate in making art or experiencing it in the context of the art therapy session.
  • Art offers a medium that is non-threatening, which allows the individual a positive, safe environment for self-expression. It also helps the art therapist build rapport with the individual.
  • Art is familiar, which increases the comfort of the individual who may be in an unfamiliar setting or situation.
  • Finally, art can be used as a motivation or a reward for learning, to help an individual complete or engage in a task.

Benefits of Art Therapy

Some of general benefits of art therapy across populations include its capability to:

reduce stresspromote wellnessdecrease perception of pain
increase communicationincrease self-expressionenhance memory
increase social interactionincrease self-esteemutilize fine/gross motor skills

Some of the common interventions used in art therapy include:

beadworkmural creation
sculpturemask design

The art therapist has training and experience to adapt these interventions based on client needs, and to create new interventions for treatment. The interventions are chosen in order to allow for the maximum success and benefit to the patient or client. Each intervention has the capacity to address multiple goals, and may elicit a wide range of responses. The art therapist is also trained to instantly modify the session based on client responses.