What Is Art Therapy?

Art therapy involves utilizing creative outlets such as drawing, painting, collage, building or sculpting to encourage nonverbal expression. The goal is, for the person creating, to gain a deeper awareness of feelings and behaviors that ultimately could lead toward positive change.

American Art Therapy Association defines art therapy as:
Art therapy is the therapeutic use of art making, within a professional relationship, by people who experience illness, trauma or challenges in living, and by people who seek personal development. Through creating art and reflecting on the art products and processes, people can increase awareness of self and others, cope with symptoms, stress and traumatic experiences; enhance cognitive abilities; and enjoy the life-affirming pleasures of making art.

When It's Used

Art therapy can help children, adolescents, and adults explore their emotions, improve self-esteem, manage addictions, relieve stress, improve symptoms of anxiety and depression, and cope with a physical illness, physical disability or chronic pain. A background in art is NOT necessary to benefit from art therapy. The therapeutic art process is not about the end result or art creation necessarily, but rather about the associations and experience that come from creating and recreating. The final artwork can be used as a source from which stories can be recalled, emerge or metaphorically transform.

What to Expect

As with any form of therapy, your first session will consist of your talking to Deborah about your interests, goals and background. Together, you will come up with a plan to address your goals that involves using the creative process. Once you begin creating art, Deborah may simply provide you a safe, contained, quiet space to work with minimal interruption. Additionally, Deborah may talk with you through your process to provide guidance or to simply support you in integrating the experience that is evoked while creating. Perhaps this might be based on reactions to materials, colors used or images and thoughts that emerge. Deborah is most interested in what that process or artwork means to you.

How It Works

Art therapy is founded on the belief that self-expression through artistic creation has therapeutic value for those who are healing or seeking deeper understanding of themselves and their personalities. According to the American Art Therapy Association, art therapists are trained to understand the roles that color, texture, and various art media can play in the therapeutic process and how these tools can help reveal one’s thoughts, feelings, and psychological disposition. Art therapy integrates psychotherapy and some form of visual arts as a specific, stand-alone form of therapy, but Deborah also combines it with other types of therapy.