WHAT IS ART THERAPY?
Art therapy, as defined by the American Art Therapy Association, is the therapeutic use of making art, within a professional relationship, by people who have experienced illness, trauma or challenges that have caused varying degrees of dysfunction within their lives. Art therapy is helpful for people who seek personal development through creating art and reflecting on their artwork and the process of making art. Through art therapy an increased awareness of self is developed. The self that emerges through the creation of art in art therapy is enhanced and stabilized, enabling one to cope with challenges, stresses and trauma. The learning process is enriched through creating art and enjoyment of art making increases self awareness, cognitive abilities and defines the life-affirming pleasures of making art.
The American Art Therapy Association promotes established standards for art therapy education, ethics and practice. Volunteer committees composed of members and other experts in the field actively work on governmental affairs at the national and state level, clinical issues and professional development. The Association’s dedication to continuing education and research is demonstrated through its annual national conference, publications, its distance learning capacity which is in development and national awards recognizing excellence in the field of art therapy.
HOW ART THERAPY DEVELOPED
Throughout history, Visual expression has been used for the purposes of healing, but art therapy did not emerge as a distinct profession until the 1940s. Early in the 20th century, psychiatrists became increasingly interested in the artwork their patients with mental illness created. And educators were discovering that children’s art expressions reflected developmental, emotional, and cognitive growth. The work of many contemporary artists of that time used both primitive and child-like styles to express psychological perspectives and dispositions (Dubuffet, Picasso, Miro and Braque, for example.)
By the mid-century, hospitals, clinics, and rehabilitation centers increasingly began to include art therapy programs along with the more traditional verbal therapy techniques, recognizing that the process of creating art enhanced recovery, health, and wellness. As a result, the profession of art therapy grew into an effective and important method of communication, assessment, and treatment of children and adults in a variety of settings. Today, the profession of art therapy has gained importance in healthcare facilities throughout the United States and within psychiatry, psychology, counseling, education, and the arts.
WHAT DOES AN ART THERAPIST DO?
Art therapists, as defined by the American Art Therapy Association, are masters level professionals who hold a degree in art therapy or a related field. Educational requirements include: theories of art therapy, counseling, and psychotherapy; ethics and standards of practice; assessment and evaluation; individual, group, and family techniques; human and creative development; multicultural issues; research methods; and practicum experiences in clinical, community, and/or other settings. Art therapists are skilled in the application of a variety of art modalities (drawing, painting, sculpture, and other media) for assessment and treatment.
Art therapists are professionals trained in both art and therapy. They are knowledgeable about human development, psychological theories, clinical practice, spiritual, multicultural and artistic traditions, and the healing potential of art. They use art in treatment, assessment and research, and provide consultations to allied professionals. Art therapists work with people of all ages: individuals, couples, families, groups and communities. They provide services, individually and as part of clinical teams, in settings that include mental health, rehabilitation, medical and forensic institutions; community outreach programs; wellness centers; schools; nursing homes; corporate structures; open studios and independent practices.
An art therapist requires a license to practice art therapy. Art therapy licensing differs from state to state.
WHO BENEFITS FROM ART THERAPY?
Art therapy addresses a part of the brain that is often functional when other parts are dysfunctional or not functioning well.
Many can benefit from art therapy, including hospitalized children, teens, adults and the elderly. In addition, art therapy benefits the mentally ill. In many cases, those with depressions, fear and anxiety caused by trauma or developmental challenges have difficulty expressing their deep feeling. Creating art often allows them to begin to become released from their own dysfunctions.
The elderly, and particularly Alzheimer’s patients, suffering from varying degrees of memory loss, time and space dysfunction do to aging can respond to drawing, painting and sculpting and begin to take control and regain some of these lost capabilities.