Home Introduction To Art Therapy

You have probably heard the phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words.” This is what Art Therapy is about. It can be described as the pairing of psychotherapy and creativity. It can be defined as using the process of creating as a healing tool; using symbols and images to explore thoughts, ideas, feelings and/or memories; using creativity to express oneself; or a communication tool when words are not enough or one does not have the right words.

Art has the potential to change lives and in profound ways. When words are not enough, we turn to images and symbols to tell our stories. And in telling our stories through art, we can find a path to healing and wellness, emotional reparation, recovery, and ultimately, transformation” (www.internationalarttherapy.org).

The Art Therapy Alliance states that “Art Therapy is the deliberate use of art-making to address psychological and emotional needs. Art Therapy uses art media and the creative process to help in areas such as . . . fostering self-expression, enhancing coping skills, managing stress, and strengthening a sense of self” (www.arttherapyalliance.org).

To discover how Art Therapy works, you need to think about how the brain works. In general, the left side of the brain is where we process analytical thought, logical thought, language, science and math. The right side of the brain is where we process intuition, music, emotions, art, and creativity. In Art Therapy, both halves of the brain are working together in a unique way. At some times in the therapy process you might be processing emotions and at other times you might be creating an art image. Therefore, you are using both halves of the brain.

There is also a body/mind connection that is unique. In Art Therapy you will be using your body to perhaps pound the clay, move the paint brush in soft easy strokes, or perhaps brush away the dust from chalk pastels. Also, you will be having a unique sensory experience as you feel the clay, see the mix of colours, hear the crinkling of paper, and smell the paint. These are all example of using your body. However, you will also be using your mind to solve problems for issues that come up such as if the paint is too thin, as well as to process any emotions or memories that arise.

Two questions I often get are:

  1. Does the client have to be an artist? The answer is a resounding no! In fact, it is often easier if you have less artistic knowledge and skill as then you will have less of a desire for making an art piece “to perfection” or “as my art teacher said it should be”.
  2. Does the art therapist interpret the art? Again the answer is no! The focus is on the individual's personal meaning of colours and symbols. The therapist will not judge or analyze the art work.

I hope that this answered some of your basic questions about what Art Therapy is and how it can work.

Mary Stanwood, BAA (ECE), DVATI