Art Therapy

Art Therapy

Art Therapy is an area of psychotherapy where the medium of art is used as a means of communication between client and therapist. It is one of a number of creative therapies such as music, dance, literature and drama that can be used in the treatment of a number of mental health disorders.

Psychotherapy uses a wide range of techniques to enable clients to understand the reasons behind their negative moods and feelings. Talking therapies, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) tend to be the most widely used techniques. We all recognise that talking over problems with people can somehow help us. So it stands to reason that talking to a trained therapist who can make it easier for us to talk through the relevant issues in our lives should help us that much more. Particularly if they can enable us to find solutions to our problems and provide strategies through which we change any unhealthy behaviours and attitudes.

Benefits of the creative process

Unfortunately, some clients are unable to voice their thoughts and feelings directly to a therapist. In such cases the introduction of a ‘third party’ in the form of a physical activity such as painting can often have a cathartic effect on participants. Art therapy is based on the principle that the particular creative processes involved in artistic self-expression enables clients to begin to resolve conflict, reduce anxiety, manage behaviours, improve inter-personal skills and improve self-awareness.

Some therapists claim that those processes involved in creating art provide physical and emotional relief inducing relaxation in participants. And this can have a liberating effect whereby the participants, freed from having to keep their feelings hidden as they express themselves physically, can often open up and share their innermost thoughts with the therapist.

Session methodology

The sessions themselves can be one-to-one or in groups depending on the individual’s requirements. A typical art therapy session lasts between 45 and 60 minutes and involves firstly a safe and facilitating environment and the provision of client appropriate art media. There are various recognised forms of art therapy available depending on the purpose of the sessions and the clients involved.

For example, in some therapies the client is guided through a series of drawings and encouraged to tell the story of the objects and characters they draw in the hope that they will reveal their own thoughts and feelings. In others the client is simply asked to draw a series of prescribed pictures showing how they feel using shapes, lines and colour.

The therapist must then interpret the artistic results produced. This requires expertise as the therapist must base their interpretations on things such as; use of colour, shape, movement, placement on the page and image representation. Interpretation of results of this type is controversial as critics claim there is no real scientific measurement.

You don’t have to be artistic

Art therapy can be an extremely pleasurable experience. Clients don’t need any artistic talent to enjoy the sessions. But with a comfortable environment, a sociable atmosphere and an encouraging therapist, they usually feel secure enough to put something of themselves into the artwork. Creating individual art can be an extremely rewarding experience in itself. However, as in all therapeutic techniques the role of the therapist and their relationship with the client is crucial. It is a role that requires a great deal of skill and sensitivity as therapists deal with a wide variety of situations, clients and disorders. For instance, one day they can be working with depressed prison inmates the next with abused children. Research has indicated that art therapy can produce positive results in many clients.  However, there is no scientific evidence to support the perception that it is more effective than other therapeutic interventions.