What is Art Therapy?
Art is a universal form of expression, beginning with the scribbles of toddlers. It encompasses all cultures, races, religions, time and places. All people possess the innate ability for creative self expression; art therapy can provide this link to self awareness and personal growth.
Children, adolescents, adults and families, individually or in groups, can utilize art therapy in their own way and in a beneficial manner.
Art is very effective in working through deep feelings stemming from grief, loss and trauma.
It is also very effective at generating new ideas, stories and paths during transitions and when someone just feels stuck.
The creative process can unblock resistance, conflicts, anxiety and stress. A variety of choices is available, encouraging personal autonomy.
Artistic “talent” is not a prerequisite for benefitting from art therapy and the creative process.
The process of creation, the skills learned and the insight derived are all more important than the outcome or product.
I, as an art therapist, provide a non-judgemental environment and appropriate materials for exploration and revelation of thoughts and feelings. My clients create their own symbolic images that reveal inner thoughts and insight. The process, itself, provides means for channeling these, without having to verbalize or understand the process.
I know the developmental stages of art expression and the qualities of art media. Using this knowledge, I design specific interventions to meet treatment goals, encourage comfort with materials, facilitate expression and avoid distress.
The Value of Art Therapy
Art therapy is dynamic -a person must actively participate in their treatment.
Actively participating ensures person-centered growth; the energy of doing something spurs progress.
Self expression changes your state of being and taps your intuitive and creative process.
Art therapy offers a means of expression for a person who is unwilling to talk or who hides behind their words as a defense.
Verbal defenses are not as effective when a person is asked to respond in images instead of words. This is because the right side of the brain is activated with images, while the left side of the brain creates verbal defenses.
Visual expression is less familiar than verbal expression and less controlled. It may feel safer. It cuts through avoidance and disguise.
Visual thinking allows us to organize our feelings, thoughts and perceptions of the world around us through images. Art is closer to the unconscious because our visual perceptions predate our ability to verbalize. Preverbal thoughts are rooted in images and senses.
Traumatic experiences are encoded as images, so they first emerge as images.
Practicing right brain processes leads to brain balance, integration and unlimited possibilities. Integrating the power of both sides of the brain enhances efficiency and success.
Art is a new experience which may evoke unexpressed ideas and feelings, which can be further explored verbally.
Strong feelings can be expressed in an alternate form, which is less threatening.
A structured art session elicits focus on the task, reducing anxiety and confusion.
The process of beginning, working through and finishing an art task provides an organizing structure to the session, which promotes an integrative experience for the person. Working through the art task mobilizes industry and promotes mastery.
Creating art involves thinking, feeling and doing capacities simultaneously, promoting integration of all three levels of functioning, resulting in a full experience.
Using art materials in a task requires active problem solving wherein the person has absolute freedom and control within the limitations of the materials. Using problem solving skills in this way strengthens problem solving skills in general.
Creating an artistic expression requires a series of decisions to be made, leading to better decision making skills elsewhere. This can also enhance the ability to make reasoned choices.
When the experience is cathartic, the release is contained in the artwork and allows a new view and tool to manage strong feelings.
The person can create something that is uniquely their own and something that has never existed before. It facilitates mastery and pride.
Art is a permanent record which can be reviewed over time. It is an important link to past thoughts and feelings and records the trajectory of progress over time.
Art therapy assessment techniques provide information about functioning, strengths and needs, salient issues and learning style quickly and easily in a way other assessment tools do not.
The manner in which a person approaches the art task gives valuable information as to their styles of doing and learning. Understanding their styles helps them to be more efficient, confident, accepting and successful.
Art facilitates growth and integration before language can communicate it, due to the use of imagery, symbols and personal expressive vocabulary. It adds another modality of expression.
Art is fun which leads to relaxed and unguarded exchanges in the session. Projecting feelings of discomfort, embarrassment or basic fears onto the artwork addresses those feelings in oneself in a nonthreatening way.
Carl Jung: “Allowing a mood or feeling to become personified by representing it as an image allows us to understand it more clearly”
Peter London: “Art can be said to be - and can be used as- the externalized map of our interior self.