What Is Art Therapy?
When words “fail”, “get in the way” or “are not enough”… sometimes you can “picture it” and the picture indeed “paints a thousand words.”
As art therapists, we would sometimes ask our clients, “What is the feeling like? Does it have a colour? A shape? Can you show me?”. No two pictures have ever been the same. Each and every individual is so unique in expression. A simple line or symbol can often tell a story and be a form of release from inner tension or confusion.
There are a few misconceptions about art therapy (also called art psychotherapy) that we would like to mention here.
- It is not just for children. We have worked with kids as young as 4 years old and seniors in their 90s and everyone in between. The important thing is that you have an open mind and not let judgemental thoughts get in the way of letting yourself just be…be messy, be free.
- The therapist cannot read the drawings. The goal is for the therapist to support the client in creating something personal and meaningful to him/her. The therapist will work together with the client and in the process gain some insight into his or her life.
- It is not only for people who suffer from severe trauma or mental health problems. While art therapy has proved effective as a treatment for both trauma and mental health problems, it has also proved effective for those who perhaps are going through a life transition and would like to gain some personal insights.
- It is not just for those who can draw. Being artistic is not at all a requirement or determinant to whether you will benefit from art therapy. In fact, sometimes, art is not made at a session. The session is client-led; therefore, the decision of making art is up to the client. However, on occasions, we would suggest a visual expression when we sense it is helpful.
The representation not only facilitates communication but allows the person creating the piece of art to access parts of him/herself that are not so easily accessible otherwise. As psychotherapists, we call this the sub-conscious or even the unconscious. And soon, what is drawn on the page, looks back at us – both the client and the therapist – and brings us into a deeper space, a sacred space ready to be gently and reverently explored and seen.
This 3-way relationship, between client, therapist and the artwork is what is considered to be the key feature of art therapy.
Clients often experience this approach as less threatening as it provides an indirect platform for discussion rather than addressing emotional problems in a straightforward fashion. One client explained that her artwork “shielded” her from her pain.
Art therapy is a professional method of treatment that draws both on the principles of psychotherapy as well as the creative experience of the client to gain insight and to achieve growth, healing and integration. Engaging in art therapy helps the client get “unstuck” by releasing what they need to release and to understand and make meaning of what they seek to understand.