What is art therapy?* Art therapy is a mental health profession in which an art therapist facilitates the client's use of art media and the creative process to reach a number of treatment goals or personal goals such as exploring feelings, reconciling conflicts, improving self awareness, behavior management, social skills.
What advantages does art therapy provide?
The biggest advantage is that art can express things that are not expressible verbally. That's a huge advantage for people who don't have the language to talk about what's inside of them, children or adults. In many ways it bypasses the kinds of defensive thinking that can get expressed in verbal therapy. Such as, "Oh, I didn't mean to say that," or, "What I really meant was…" Art therapy is a very rich avenue for self expression.
What does an art therapy session generally look like?
Art therapists work in many different ways. We work in individual psychotherapy sessions, and we also work in ways that are more connected with community and open studios and things of that nature. So, in terms of a more traditional approach, say an individual art therapy session, a client or patient might come to the session with her own agenda. She may come to the session saying, "I'm having this, that or the other problem," and art therapists are trained to present appropriate art media to explore or develop whatever the problem is. Some art materials are very regressive and are not the right ones to select for certain individuals and certain issues. In the case that a certain individual comes to us with a certain agenda or problem to address, the art therapist can guide that session by suggesting certain materials that facilitate a process that leads to insight or discovery.
Sometimes a person will come to a session but not really know how to talk about what's on his mind or what he's experiencing internally. In those cases art therapists can present directives -- "I'd like to suggest you explore this with art materials." That sort of thing. To get the client moving toward their goals.
Do you ever do close readings of the clients' work?
It's much more about the process. From experience, I know if you offered interpretations of the work, the adolescents probably wouldn't' want to come back. It's getting them to discover how to discover the process for themselves.
What would you say to someone who claims they're not artistic or don't have talent?
That it's about the process rather than the product. Everyone can be successful at art therapy because it's not about artistic skill. It's about healthy expression through all of these art materials we have here in the art therapy room.
What should you know about the art therapy field?
Art therapy is a mental health profession. Art therapists work in many places. It used to be that art therapists worked primarily in psychiatric hospitals, but now they practice along a continuum from the traditional individual psychotherapy session to community art settings. We work in residential treatment centers and jails and prisons and detention centers, alternative schools, veteran's affairs, medical centers. A lot of art therapists do work with older adults at assisted living centers. We engage in private practice. Also, there's a lot of art therapy in medical settings, working with people who have been traumatized, such as war veterans. Working with people who have chronic pain or serious illness such as cancer. People dealing with the psychological aspects of having a serious medical diagnosis. There are many places where we work.
If someone is interested in seeing an art therapist, what's the first step?
There are a couple of ways to find an art therapist. On the American Art Therapy Association website there's an art therapy locator. Also theArt Therapy Credentials Board, which is now in the United States, the board that awards professional credentials to art therapists, they also have a "find an art therapist" option on their website.