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?!
Though, like other forms of therapy, art therapy may not be a good fit for everyone, it is certainly more accessible than it is often imagined to be. There’s a common misconception that art therapy 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. Art therapy has been documented and researched with:
- 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).
Again, these are only a few examples of the applications of art therapy that have been documented in recent research.
“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 of art therapy 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 art therapy for those who have less training in the visual arts. Why? For those who have training in the visual arts, it can be easier to get caught up in technique and skill and harder to truly engage in the art-making process. When we let go of expectation in art therapy and we aren’t caught up in technical or aesthetic considerations, well, that is often when the “magic” really happens.
Finally, one of the wonderful things about art therapy is its knack for lending itself to flexibility. Art therapy really doesn’t look “one” way. If you like to spend more time talking than creating, than art therapy can provide space for that! If you’d rather write today than draw, then let’s write! If you like music when you create, hey, that’s cool. If you prefer silence, then that’s cool too! 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. If you’re just not feeling the creative juices flowing today, 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. If you’re interested in learning more about art therapy and whether or not it’s a good fit for you, feel free to contact Eugenio Counselling Services to book a free 30-minute consultation with Melanie.
Campbell, M., Decker, K.P., Kruk, K. & Deaver, S.P. (2016) Art Therapy and Cognitive Processing Therapy for Combat-Related PTSD: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Art Therapy, 33(4), 169-177, DOI: 10.1080/07421656.2016.1226643.
Curry, N.A. & Kasser, T. (2005). Can Coloring Mandalas Reduce Anxiety? Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, 22(2), 81-85, DOI: 10.1080/07421656.2005.10129441.
Davis, B. (2010). Hermeneutic methods in art therapy research with international students. The Arts in Psychotherapy, 37, 179-189, DOI: 10.1016/j.aip.2010.03.003.
King, J.L. (Ed.). (2016). Art Therapy, Trauma, and Neuroscience: Theoretical and Practical Perspectives. Routledge.
Peterson, C. (2015). “Walkabout: Looking In, Looking Out”: A Mindfulness- Based Art Therapy Program. Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, 32(2), 78-82, DOI: 10.1080/07421656.2015.1028008.
Ponteri, A.K. (2001). The Effect of Group Art Therapy on Depressed Mothers and Their Children. Art Therapy, 18(3), 148-157, DOI: 10.1080/07421656.2001.10129729.
Sandmire, D. A., Gorham, S.R., Rankin, N.E. & Grimm, D.R. (2012). The Influence of Art Making on Anxiety: A Pilot Study. Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, 29(2), 68-73, https://doi.org/10.1080/07421656.2012.683748.
Stewart, E.G. (2004). Art Therapy and Neuroscience Blend: Working with Patients Who Have Dementia. Art Therapy, 21(3), 148-155, DOI: 10.1080/07421656.2004.10129499.
Uttley, L., Stevenson, M., Scope, A., Rawdin, A. & Sutton, A. (2015). The clinical and cost effectiveness of group art therapy for people with non-psychotic mental health disorders: a systematic review and cost-effectiveness analysis. U. BMC Psychiatry, 15(151), DOI: 10.1186/s12888-015-05284.