Art Therapy Demystified and Explained

Art therapy is a form of counseling utilized in a therapeutic setting to begin a personal journey encompassing emotional, mental, and physical wellbeing through art. Art therapists are trained in counseling, art therapy, and art. Think counseling with the added bonus of having an additional specialty, say like someone that specializes in Addictions, EMDR, or Family Therapy. They have the knowledge of counseling with an added expertise, achieved through additional training and supervision.

Art therapy involves the use of art making as a unique expression of every individual, and therefore holds special meaning that can lead to insight into problem solving, emotional expression, conflict resolution, and self-awareness. It can enhance communication or be the sole form of communication. It can reduce stress, instill confidence, and provide an element of control over personal struggles.

There are different practices and integrations of art therapy. Art as therapy, defines the process of creating as therapeutic in itself, and art psychotherapy, in which the imagery created is used as a healing tool. The symbols and images that emerge through art making can be utilized by a trained professional to evoke meaning through the journey of the client, through their eyes and voice. Art as therapy evokes spontaneous art making which intertwines the entire mind body experience to allow the energy of making art to be healing. The creative process, symbolism, metaphors, and the communication between client and therapist can all be aspects of the art therapy process.

Myths about art therapy:

Myth: Art therapy is only for children.

Short answer: Art therapy can help anyone. Those of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities.

Longer answer: Kids tend to communicate with less words and easily explore their senses and emotions through the art making materials. They let their creativity shine with spontaneous image and mark making. Their story radiates through the way they approach their art, their relationship with the art process, and what emerges in metaphor.

Adults tend to talk out their problems and seek relief in this manner. They sometimes find art making childish, which inhibits their perspective on how it can be useful. Adults often worry that they are not good at art and therefore cannot participate in this type of therapy. Often times this stems from an upsetting experience in a school art class that discouraged their creativity by shaming the art in some sort of way. Adults can benefit greatly from tapping into their creative souls, much like children, by using art as a form of communication to reduce stress and conquer struggles.

Myth: I have to be good at art.

Art therapy is not about making paintings to submit to an art gallery show, and no one is grading you on your artwork. One does not need to be good at art or know anything about art to engage in this practice. Instead this process involves your inner experience with no limitations. It involves you, and only you. For you, and only you.

Myth: An art therapist interprets art work. Not exactly.

An art therapists job is to elicit information from you the creator, to help make connections by understanding healthy patterns, and not so healthy patterns, similar to the goals of talk therapy. The difference lies in the use of creative energy used for healing, and the use of image and symbol as meaningful experience. The imagery created is unique because it emerges from the depths of the mind, a place where it is impossible to lie, make stuff up, or pretend. Unlike talk therapy, art therapy provides a tangible element to reflect on. Something created by you. Even if you set out initially to avoid confronting your personal struggle, the art and process can lend information to healing properties, regardless of your intent. The art therapy process taps into things hidden from our awareness. Repressed items that were filed under “do not enter.” That’s what makes this information so unique and pure. We store away images, memories, emotions, and experience, and art making can communicate with this part of the mind to bring it to the surface. Exploration of the content and/or how the art making process evolved is the structure to continue the journey for personal wellbeing.

Is art therapy right for me?

Art therapy can provide relief by giving form to thoughts and feelings. Self-expression through art making is a viable option to gather information and insight into the healing process and further self-discovery.

About the Author

Andrea PicardAndrea Picard, LCPC, ATR is a therapist at our Edison Park location. Andrea works with adults, families, teens, children, and moms/caregivers. Andrea’s specialties include art therapy, parent + child relationships, anger, addiction, and anxiety. If you’re interested in working with Andrea, send an email today!