Art Therapy is a form of expressive therapy that uses the creative process of making art to improve a person’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Art helps awaken a child’s imagination and creativity to help them discover who they are and how to engage their senses. This is more than coloring pictures, art therapy for kids allows children to process the things that have happened to them, offers an opportunity for self-expression, develops fine motor skills, and reduces stress and anxiety.
Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time. – Thomas Merton
It’s important to define art therapy and distinguish this healing modality as its own profession from what it’s not.
Creating or engaging in art may be described by some as “feel-good art and crafts,” promoting relaxation, a mindful or spiritual experience, a distraction or chance to “numb” things out, or even a self-soothing tool when used as a form of personal “self-help” therapy.
While it should be encouraged for all to engage in the arts in any way, art therapy is a much deeper experience that cannot be completed on one’s own. In fact, it’s rather unique and powerful, especially for children.
Art therapy is a mental-health profession and an expressive art form. Clients use art media, the creative process, and the resulting product to explore their thoughts and feelings.
So, what is art therapy, exactly? Here are 5 ways to define it.
1. Purposeful within a dynamic relationship
Each directive or intervention is meaningful and required to be done with a practitioner.
2. It’s intentional.
It actively helps you visually express and record experiences, perceptions, feelings, and imaginations while eliciting an inherent capacity for art-making to enhance your physical, mental, and emotional well-being.
3. It’s insightful.
Art therapy helps you gain insight and self-awareness, awakening your own capabilities to resolve and reconcile conflicts and problems. It helps to facilitate change, revealing individual differences.
Art therapy also assists with developing interpersonal, physical, cognitive, emotional, and social skills for healthy communication such as:
- Managing behavior and addictions
- Improving reality orientation
- Reducing stress
- Increasing self-esteem and expression
- Facilitating change
4. It comes from reparative and corrective non-judgmental roots.
The singular goal of art therapy is improving and restoring your functioning and sense of personal well-being. This is accomplished via directives and interventions that externalize your inner world in a safe environment.
New experiences are provided, even after product completion. Art therapy focuses on process versus product and right- or whole-brain integration.
5. It’s a continuum of practice.
With art as therapy at one end and art psychotherapy at the other, it’s projective and introspective. This means that you’re able to connect and relate to others, as well as yourself through art.
What are art therapists?
They are professionals who hold a degree in art therapy or a related field and are credentialed by the Art Therapy Credentials Board.
Registration (ATR) is granted upon completion of graduate-level education requirements set by the American Art Therapy Association and one thousand post-graduate hours, or through supervised experience by another art therapist.
Art therapists work with people of all ages and impairments in a variety of settings, including hospitals, rehabilitation, psychiatric, medical, residential, educational, and assisted-living facilities, as well as in private practice.
They leverage their clients’ inherent capacity to creatively enhance their physical, mental, and emotional well-being, as well as their ability to self-express.