Why choose art therapy? Choosing to engage in therapy can take great strength and courage. Add
image-making into the mixture and it’s no wonder that art therapy can come across as an intimidating form of therapy. For many of us, making art may fall into the category of childhood memories. Chalk, tempera paint, glue sticks, and colouring pages may come to mind. Our thoughts of image making may become further complicated when we add identity into the equation. Moving past our elementary years, many of us distanced ourselves from creative expression and especially from the label, “artist”. So, if you haven’t picked up a paintbrush in years, why on earth choose art therapy?!
Just like talk therapy, art therapy might not be the right fit. It is certainly more accessible than it is often imagined to be. There’s a common misconception is that it is only suitable for young children, but this simply isn’t the case. There is research documenting the use of art therapy with such a wide and diverse range of individuals and groups, that I truly don’t have the space to list them all here. But, for interest’s sake, here are a few examples:
- cancer patients and their care partners (Peterson, 2015);
- those experiencing elevated levels of stress and anxiety (Sandmire et al., 2012; Curry & Kasser, 2005);
- those experiencing mental health disorders (Uttley et al., 2015);
- undergraduate students experiencing loneliness and isolation (Davis,2010);
- those experiencing combat-related PTSD (Campbell et al., 2016);
- those who have experienced trauma (King, 2016);
- those with a diagnosis of dementia (Stewart, 2011);
- new mothers and their children (Ponteri, 2011).
“But I’m not good at art!” you might say. Yes, no doubt that a common concern among those who consider or begin art therapy is their personal ability to create aesthetically “beautiful” art. Luckily, the process really does not depend on one’s art making abilities. In fact, if you talk to art therapists, they might suggest that it is easier to engage in for those who have less training in the visual arts. Why? Training in visual arts is about skill and technique, this can be hard to forget about. The magic happens when there are no expectations, no skill or technique.
Finally, one of the wonderful things about art therapy is its knack for lending itself to flexibility. It really doesn’t look “one” way. If you like to spend more time talking than creating, than art therapy can provide space for that! Or if you want to write rather than draw, then let’s write! We can even listen to music while you create. Silence works as well. If you don’t have any art materials on hand, no worries, let’s take a walk outside and grab some sticks and pinecones to work with.
Some days, the creative juices might not be flowing, let’s explore that! If you’d like to colour in your colouring book today while we chat or be quiet together, that’s great. And, if you have absolutely no idea what to use, where to go, or how to begin, that’s okay too! An art therapist can provide support, suggestions and guidance where its appreciated and warranted!
Art therapy can sound and look intimidating, but it’s a wonderfully flexible and accessible form of therapy that can be supportive in many different ways for many different people.