Art has long been used to express emotions; in fact, you can argue that all art is emotional expression. It’s not much of a leap then for mental health professionals to want to use art in helping clients. Art is something instinctive as opposed to carefully thought out. This makes it effective in helping clients become more authentic within themselves.
Art therapy is the use of any creative medium in order to achieve therapeutic goals. Anything from drawing to sculpting to dancing may be used, although some therapists have preferences. At times, art therapy is structured; there are instructions you need to follow and specific reflection questions you need to answer. At other times, art therapy means anything goes – you may not even have to explain what you crafted from random materials. You can be the one creating art or you may simply interpret art by others.
You don’t have to be artistically gifted to benefit from this approach. The goal is not to create something galleries and museums would want to exhibit; your therapist won’t be grading you. What matters is for your art to actively engage your inner world, so that you can process your emotions properly.
And yes, art therapy is for all ages. While art therapy is used regularly during sessions with children, it’s also beneficial for adults to work with an art therapist.
How does it work?
Art therapy is usually integrated with other therapeutic orientations, although it is a specialised branch of psychotherapy on its own. Mindfulness, Psychoanalysis, Person-centered Therapy, Systems Therapy, and Gestalt Therapy are common partners of this approach. The art can be for mere assessment but many times it also provides the treatment.
For example, some art therapists invite clients to create Mandalas, Indian spiritual symbols used during meditation. The process of just focusing on the minute details of the Mandala can already help you become mindful of the moment, providing clarity for when you process your emotions.
There are art therapists who would invite you to artistically represent an experience of a traumatic event, as in the case of art therapy used for disaster survivors.
Some therapists use art to surface unconscious thoughts and feelings; they will help you interpret what increased pressure on paper or the prominence of one color means.
Gestalt therapists are known for using psychodrama to integrate thoughts, feelings, and emotions.
The important part of art therapy is the processing facilitated by your therapist. Anyone can create art even at home, but a qualified, accredited and insured therapist will help you navigate the issues therapy will bring to the surface. Drawing your body image, for instance, is helpful in itself; but the guidance of your therapist towards recovery from eating disorder is critical.
What issues does it treat?
Art Therapy is especially recommended for those who have difficulty verbalising emotions. Children, trauma survivors, and people who find therapy threatening benefit from this approach.
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