What is Art Therapy?

By February 19, 2015

Today’s psychology focus is on Art Therapy. This approach can benefit you if a you:

  • are seeking counseling for a child or adolescent
  • suffer from post traumatic stress as a war veteran, child abuse survivor, or have been a victim of a violent crime
  • struggle with disordered eating
  • are an artist who wishes to deepen your relationship with your medium and its healing potential for yourself and others

art-therapyA British Artist, Adrian Hill, originated the term Art Therapy in the early 1940’s. Simply put, it uses the creative process of art making (painting, drawing, clay sculpture) to symbolically express the contents of the unconscious and provide opportunities to gain insight in an effort to improve mental, emotional, and physical health.

Registered or Certified practitioners use Art Therapy alongside dozens of other approaches like Cognitive Behavior Therapy, Gestalt Therapy, Narrative Therapy, Sandplay and Jungian Analysis. You may also find school counselors, artist workshops, and support groups using Art Therapy techniques outside of the clinical setting.

Art Therapy has also been used as a psychological assessment tool. Examples include: the Diagnostic Drawing Series (DDS); the Mandala Assessment Research Instrument (MARI); and, the Draw-A-Man Test; and, the House-Tree-Person (HTP) test. The test results guide and inform therapeutic treatment and can be re-administered to track development or progress over time.

What tools will a counselor use in an art therapy session?

Based on your needs and the counselor’s initial assessment, the counselor will choose materials and suggest an artist method to perform.

You will be encouraged to express “freely” with shapes, colors, images, and sizes versus being instructed on “how” to draw, paint, or make a sculpture.

Unlike Sandplay Therapy where the counselor silently witnesses, the Art Therapist guides and explores the deeper meaning of the images and the experience of making the art along the way.


The American Art Therapy Association

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