Art in Therapy

What does it mean to use art in therapy?

The use of art in therapy is a process in which you will be guided by a therapist in relying on art-making and the resulting artwork to explore your feelings and concerns, learn more about yourself, develop skills, reduce symptoms of anxiety or depression and improve or regain a sense of well-being. Making art will be combined with conversation to make the experience Art therapy was introduced in the United States in the 1800s and eventually became a profession. A person may elect to study and obtain licensure as an art therapist (ATR). However, many therapists licensed in other fields (counseling, social work, health care) have found the use of art in therapeutic sessions to be very helpful.

What happens in a session where art is used?

In your introductory session, the therapist may ask about your interests and hobbies. If it becomes clear that you are interested in creative endeavors that include art-making, the therapist may offer materials and supplies. In other cases, the therapist may see that a particular concern you have presented could be addressed in a manner that involves art materials and you may decide together to draw, paint, use clay or try printmaking. The materials used will be appropriate for your age, interests, concerns and abilities.

It is not necessary for you to have studied art, be proficient in art-making or feel comfortable and confident with art materials. Many clients are absolute beginners in making art and the therapist will introduce the materials and ideas in a manner that will be inviting and nonthreatening. Your art will not be judged. You will be considered the expert on your creation and you may comment on, interpret, or pose questions about your work. You are in control and will witness and observe your own process. The therapist may ask questions about your art but the questions will be respectful and curious, rather than analytical or judgmental.

This sounds like something for kids. Do adults use art in therapy too?

Yes! The therapeutic benefits of using art in therapy with children, teens, adults and seniors have been widely documented and include:

  • Integration of emotional, cognitive, and sensory processes

  • Improved ability to cope with, and address, problems

  • Ability to deal with symptoms of medical conditions

  • Comfort with, and enjoyment of, the materials

  • Ability to share and assist others in creating art

  • Less pain and more mobility in the hands and wrists

  • Stimulation of the brain (which impacts Alzheimer’s and dementia)

  • Affirmation by creating something with your own hands

  • Ease of implementation (you can make art almost anywhere, with readily available materials)

We all experience times when words just don’t communicate the feelings that we have. But, unlike words, images can sometimes be powerful expressions of our dreams, fantasies, and inner experiences. Art can provide a new language for things that words can’t adequately describe. You’re never too young, or too old, to enjoy making art and learn from the process.

More information on the use of art in therapy:

Information from the American Art Therapy Association

The International Art Therapy Organization has a list of settings in which art therapy is used

Various art therapy projects that show the range of applications of art to therapy



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