When seeing the word therapy, very few people think about art. For most, therapy is either physical or psychological, not creative. Yet there are surprising health benefits to the creative process of art therapy. Art therapy combines art-making and applied psychological theory. It can be enjoyable and therapeutic at the same time, and suitable for all ages and backgrounds.
Introduction to Art Therapy
Art therapy is an effective way to express feelings and thoughts through creative means. This process engages the mind, body, and spirit in ways that allow communication and expression of emotions and thoughts, without the limitations of verbal articulation alone. Through art, a person can symbolically express their voice and experience, fostering healing, self-awareness, and empowerment while building emotional resilience.
Depending on a person’s needs, art therapy can be conducted individually, in pairs, or even in larger groups. Oftentimes it is facilitated by a trained professional, and sometimes used in conjunction with psychotherapy. It’s often used in mental health and human services settings to help those with psychosis, trauma, anxiety, depression, chronic illness, or physical head injuries. Allowing the person to engage in art promotes relaxation and well-being, leading to a decrease in symptoms and improved healing.
Different Techniques Used in Art Therapy
The main goal of art therapy is to help people express themselves through the creation and appreciation of art. Through creative processes and art-making, people can gain new insights into themselves and learn how to effectively cope with negative emotions or thoughts.
In this sense, art therapy is quite similar to expressive therapy. However, the two differ in one important aspect: expressive therapy involves combining several art forms—dance, music, drawing or painting, acting, etc.—whereas art therapy focuses on one art modality, primarily visual arts.
Common techniques used in art therapy include:
- Drawing (usually with pencils)
- Doodling (suitable for those who aren’t too artistic but still find drawing soothing)
- Painting (using any medium—acrylic, watercolor, oil, ink, etc.)
- Coloring (excellent for anxiety and stress management)
- Making collages (fantastic for perfectionists who aren’t comfortable with making marks on paper by themselves)
- Working with clay/sculpting (fitting for patients who need to keep their hands busy and who prefer the practical aspects of creating art)
When choosing what type of art to engage in, it is essential to experiment. People should ask themselves how creating something made them feel and explore the most fitting art forms further. An art therapist can help guide the creative process using psychological, spiritual, and artistic theories to help lead the person to the activity and medium most effective and constructive for them.
How Does Art Therapy Work?
Generally speaking, an art therapy session is similar to therapy. However, instead of talking about problems, you get to express them through an art form of your choice. There is no set structure for art therapy sessions. However, first sessions usually begin with a discussion about the concerns or issues you want to focus on, and the type of art you want to engage in.
During the art-making session, making art can take up most of the session, be only a few minutes, or even be skipped. Time spent during sessions can vary depending on your needs. The therapist’s role depends on what is best for you. This can range from mainly observing, asking questions from time to time, or providing more structured guidance where the therapist chooses what type of art and medium to use. The primary goal is to create a safe and comfortable space where you can openly express yourself, utilize the medium that calls to you, and work at a pace that you’re comfortable with.
Once the art is created, the last stage of the session begins. During this time, you will engage directly with your therapist about the art you created and the steps that led to it. Your therapist may ask direct questions or simply let you talk. Again, it all depends on your needs and the reason for attending a session in the first place.
The best thing about art therapy is that it can be done virtually in the comfort of your home. Sessions are usually conducted the same way, offering the convenience of a virtual session with the benefits of in-person guidance. Some states have licensing requirements and regulatory laws to practice art therapy, so it’s important to first find out if your art therapist can legally work with you virtually. You can find more information about licensing and state requirements here.
Limitations of Art Therapy
Although art therapy has been shown to result in positive outcomes, some question the effectiveness of the approach. It’s best to point out that like all forms of therapy, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, especially when it comes to dealing with one’s mental and emotional health. So even though one person may find art therapy effective, another may not. A contributing factor may be the willingness of a person to participate in making art. Some find it tedious, time-consuming, or boring.
Some participants also suffer from the misunderstanding that because they are not artistically inclined, this type of therapy will not work. It’s best to understand that the goal of art therapy is for self-expression, not to create an art masterpiece. A good way to gauge whether the sessions are working for you is how you feel. If you are not feeling engaged in the art sessions, then maybe art therapy isn’t for you.
Other limitations of art therapy include having to go through several sessions before finding benefits, or difficulty processing emotions and thoughts that surface after sessions. These limitations vary by individual, and with the guidance and expertise of a good art therapist, most should be able to overcome these limitations and challenges.
Who Can Benefit from Art Therapy?
Art therapy is suitable for just about anyone, regardless of age or profession. However, whether or not it is helpful depends on the individual and his or her condition and goals. Art therapy has been shown to help with a wide range of mental, emotional, and developmental issues such as anxiety disorders, depression, trauma, PTSD, brain injuries, and social and behavioral problems. Recent research has shown that it can help with symptoms associated with schizophrenia and dissociative identity disorder.
Through art, people are able to explore their thoughts and feelings, which may be helpful for those who find it difficult to identify with their emotions or communicate them verbally. Art therapy can also provide an outlet for those who find it difficult to discuss painful memories. It is less direct and invasive than other forms of therapy, which is often preferable in these cases.
Finding an Art Therapist
When looking for an art therapist, it is essential to look for someone who is certified by an accreditation body like the Art Therapy Credentials Board (ATC). These individuals have completed the appropriate education, have sufficient experience, and operate with the highest level of professionalism and ethics to conduct an effective and safe therapy session. Different types of practitioners can have training and specialize in art therapy, so it’s best to look at the background and experience of a therapist to ensure that you understand how they conduct their sessions and what other modalities they bring in. Common practitioners with a specialization in art therapy include social workers, psychologists, and psychiatrists.
Nowadays, you can connect with a wide range of experienced and reputable art therapists on marketplace platforms such as Nexia Wellness. This platform brings together numerous health practitioners from different fields with the goal of connecting you with the right practitioner that fits your needs and expectations.
To Sum Up
Art therapy can help people deal with trauma, stress, anxiety, and depression. Through creative processes, people can gain more self-awareness, learn how to cope with their emotions, and process thoughts and feelings in an effective and healthy way.
If you think art therapy can help you, make sure you find a therapist that is credentialed, has experience, and utilizes methods that you agree with. A good place to start is to browse through the practitioners on the Nexia Wellness website and reach out to them for a free consultation. The Art Therapy Credentials Board (ATC) is also a good place to find out more information about the different types of art therapy available.
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