What is art therapy?
Art therapy can be understood as the intentional integration of art-making with psychotherapy. While the multisensory aspects of the creative process can make artmaking therapeutic in itself, the incorporation of art within psychotherapeutic and counselling approaches helps to provide additional modes of communicating experiences and expressing emotion. It is led by a trained art therapist and is built off of the same foundational theories as other traditional forms of therapy. Moreover, art therapy is centered on the belief that the process of art-making is far more important than the end result.
Although the art therapist is well-versed with the materials at hand and can provide functional assistance, art therapy differs from other arts-based activities you may have participated in that the therapist does provide any sort of technical art lesson. Instead, the art therapist works holistically to support the client in exploring their thoughts, emotions, and needs in new ways. As such, art therapy as a primary or adjunct mode of treatment can have life-enhancing effects on children, seniors, and everyone in between.
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What to expect in an art therapy session?
The general nature of an art therapy session is flexible, curious, and collaborative. While some individuals choose art therapy because of an existing interest in the arts, many clients have little to no experience with art-making prior to commencing. Upon arriving for their 50-minute session, the client is provided with a variety of 2D and 3D materials to explore. Depending on the needs of the client, a typical session may include a mix of conversation, silent working time, or more movement-based activities. Although the art therapist may use theoretical insight to suggest specific activities at times, the client also has the freedom to embark on a specific project of interest if desired. The therapist and client may also work together to make interpretations about what images mean to the client, following the understanding that the artist is always the expert on their own work.
What are the benefits of art therapy?
Art therapy from a trauma-informed approach is informed by neurodevelopment and neurobiology. Sessions typically focus on supporting regulation, self-expression, establishing a sense of safety, identifying and ameliorating the body’s experience of distress, and providing meaning-making experiences. Exploring personal trauma stories through art-making can provide individuals with the opportunity to establish a sense of control as we work to explore, alter, and rewrite the narrative – all while prioritizing respect for individual preferences and experiences. Additionally, art therapy can help to integrate the senses, engage the mind-body connection, support self-efficacy and creative problem-solving, and more!