What Is Art Therapy?

When you hear the words " art therapy," what comes to mind? How to colour in an adult coloring page? Take a Paint-and-Sip class. Making a collage out of old concert tickets or arranging fresh-cut flowers. These activities are art, but they don't offer art therapy.

Tammy Shella (art therapy manager), PhD, ATR.BC explains art therapy, its benefits, and the actual job of an art therapist.

Art Therapy Has Been around for how long? What does it entail?

Shella defines art therapy as an evidence-based, clinical mental health treatment that uses art-based approaches. The interventions are performed by certified art therapists who can support patients’ emotional, psychological, and physiological growth.

The main purpose of art therapy, Shella says, is to help people express themselves through art. Shella says that the art therapist may talk to the patient about the artwork, including the story it tells and/or any emotions associated with it. This can aid in understanding and personal growth.

Shella says that art therapy has roots back to the 1940s, and is still a young field. Shella suggests that training programs for professionals began appearing in the 1960s. The American Art Therapy Association was founded in 1969.

What does an Art Therapist do?

The role of art therapists is to help hospitalized patients. They are also called medical art therapists. Shella says that these might be managing anxiety , pain or stress, as well as processing new diagnosis or treatment plans. They also help with navigating end-of-life issues.

Art therapy is referred to patients by a physician's order. Shella says that after a patient is referred, an artist therapist reviews their chart. Then, they meet with the patient and discuss the needs and set goals.

How do you train to be an artist therapist?

An accredited university or college must confer a Master's in Art Therapy to art therapists. For registration with the Art Therapy Credentials Board and for board certification, they will need to complete practicum and internship work.

Art therapy uses what types of art? Shella says that the art therapy a patient may engage in depends on their current state.

A wide range of media can be used in art therapy. Shella says that patients can draw, paint or use fiber arts to create collages. Shella says that art therapists offer several options so patients feel they have a choice. She says this is important especially in hospitalization, when some patients might feel they have little control over their care.

The session's goals may dictate the medium used. If the goal of the session is to reduce anxiety, the therapist may suggest a free-flowing art medium such as watercolor paints or inks. To release anger or tension, the therapist might recommend something more kinesthetic like clay, which can be pounded into molds, or making torn paper art.

Art Therapy is for everyone.

One good example of this is how art therapy helps those who have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Shella believes that patients with trauma might have PTSD. This is because the brain's non-verbal parts are responsible for processing the information. People who have PTSD experience the symptoms through all their senses. Shella emphasizes that although talking about trauma can help, it is more helpful to be able to communicate it non-verbally.

Shella has also seen art therapy offered in hospitals. However, Shella said that although she works at a hospital for art therapy, art therapists can be found anywhere. You can find art therapy in hospitals, nursing homes and in schools.

Art therapy can be beneficial to a wide range of people, she says.

Some common misconceptions about art therapy

Shella is determined to get rid of the misconception that art therapy should be done with friends.

She elaborates.

People often think art therapy is just entertainment. The therapeutic work of helping people to deal with trauma and other end-of life issues as well as chronic mental disorders, new or unexpected diagnoses, long-term hospitalization, emotional distress, and ongoing treatment is difficult.

According to her, one key to this type of practice is to work with an art therapist who has been credentialed. It's not coloring books for adults or other creative hobbies that people are drawn to. It can be fun and relaxing for some. It isn't art therapy. It would be like believing that you received physical therapy for going on a walk.

The misconception that art therapy is only for children is another. It's not. Shella adds that anyone can use it, regardless of age. People can benefit from art therapy as well.

It's not only for artists. Some people might think that this therapy is just for those who are artistic. A patient does not have to be an artist or a sculptor. Patients just have to be open-minded and willing to learn.

Art therapy is about creating. Art is not important if it's visually pleasing, though this is sometimes the case. The creative process has many advantages. It engages our non-verbal part of the brain, and can allow us to express feelings that are difficult or impossible to communicate verbally. Talking about art can sometimes create distance between people and their emotions. This may make it easier for them to talk about what's in the artwork.