What is Art Therapy?

art ther·a·py
noun: art therapy
a form of psychotherapy involving the encouragement of free self-expression through painting, drawing, or modeling, used as a remedial activity or an aid to diagnosis.

You can find the American Art Therapy Association answer to this question here.  Or check out the Wikipedia article.  You may also enjoy Cathy Malchiodi’s article on Psychology Today.com.

When someone learns that I’m an Art Therapist, I often get this question, “So, what exactly is art therapy?”.  And I start with, “Art Therapy gives me another set of tools in my therapy tool box.  It’s another way that people can share and tell without needing to talk about it.” Think about this. . .have you ever had an experience with an image or a song that reminds you of someone, or something, and takes you right back to that place?  That’s starting to get at what art therapy “Is”.

People don’t come to my office because they’re having a great time doing life.  That said, sometimes what is making life feel hard is the inability to express our experience, our feelings or anything at all!  It’s especially hard for those of us who have experienced trauma, abuse or neglect to feel safe enough to allow vulnerability and trust that we won’t be hurt by our sharing.

Art therapy gives us a non-verbal process for you to share your experience and start exploring and expressing your inner world, your feelings, your history. Using art, with the guidance and support of a trained Art Therapist, you can safely express your self using symbols, colors, lines, clay, music, poetry, movement, just to name a few.  My style of art therapy doesn’t require that we use our words to explain, understand or make meaning of your art.  I believe that the simple act of creating art is healing.  I trust that when we find safe ways for our bodies and hearts to share what’s on the inside with the outside world, it is a powerful and moving process.

Art can teach us that it’s ok to access and feel all of our emotions and feelings.  And we can go at our own pace; make decisions about what we’re going to check out, how much or how little, and press pause or stop as needed.  And the best part is, You Can’t Do this Wrong.  We can start over, edit and explore new perspectives.  Art is the most forgiving and patient creature I know. Art can hold, art can speak for you, art can remind you that you can create change and make something wonderful.  Together, we can use art therapeutically to support change and healing in a way that is meaningful to you.

And you know what the best way to find out what Art Therapy is?  Try it on and see/hear/feel/experience it for yourself.