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What is Art Therapy?

What is art therapy?

So many times I receive this question as an art therapist. When I tell people I'm an art therapist, most people say they've never heard of such a thing. Other times, they say, "Oh that means you look at the art and analyze how that artist feels." or "Can you look at that picture on the wall and tell me what the artist was thinking?"

It's actually a little more than that. Not a little...a lot more than that.

And I'm not mad at people when they don't know. I actually find it as an opportunity to educate them on, what I feel to be, an important field in the land of mental health and healing. Art-making is a powerful thing.

So, what the heck is it?

Well, there's two different types, really. The first is art as therapy. This pretty much encompasses the idea that creating art, in itself, is therapeutic. For example, as an art therapist, I hold a group twice per week called Creative Art Hour at a long term care facility. My clients range between 53-101 years old. I usually focus on different creative projects that include storytelling, art technique, and reminiscing, with a therapeutic twist. It is a fun environment that people enjoy to socialize and create. It may or may not trigger feelings. When I say therapeutic twist, I will-at times-use art therapy in the group setting to assist clients as they need it.

Art therapy or art psychotherapy can be used for clinical treatment. Art therapy allows room for self-exploration and self-discovery. It involves having a conversation AND making art. For example, I have a female client who has an issue with anger. She often has angry outbursts at staff and other clients. I try to work with this client to identify triggers that set her off.

So a typical session would start like this:

First, I would have a conversation with -let's call her Marge- like regular "talk therapy" to meet her where she's at that day. If the typical "How are you feeling" question sets her off to "I am so angry at the world", I would then ask and encourage Marge to express that anger in a more healthy way, offering her to create art. I may say to her, can you create what that anger looks like? Paint what your anger looks like. Sometimes it feels good to get it out on paper. If she agrees to do this, we would then look at the art together after she creates it. I would allow the client to talk as much as she feels comfortable about the painting. Perhaps I would probe more, asking questions about a color that she used. She may have used the color orange, realizing that it's a color that reminds her of a man that used to abuse her, which makes her very angry. The art therapist allows the client to come up with her own self-realizations, providing support. The artwork is a wonderful visual to see what comes from within the client, providing a conversation based on their feelings, or what they are battling inside. It's so powerful.

So, first identify the problem: Client has angry outbursts towards staff/peers

Then find an intervention: Art therapy- creating art to express anger in healthy way through art and conversation

and Goals: -minimizing angry outbursts- Sketch daily in sketchbook with title, meet with art therapist 2x per week, relieve stress finding appropriate art material to allow meditative / enjoyable outlet (ex. watercolor or clay)

It may take a few sessions for a client to fully understand the value of art therapy and "get' how it works. Heck, it took me awhile to understand how art therapy works. It has really changed my life. I have found so many solutions to problems in my life, because of art therapy.

There is so much more to art therapy. But I can only say so much in a blog post. Last thing I want to say is that the one thing that frustrates art therapists the most: people who falsely advertise themselves as art therapists. Again, this may be due to lack of education on what exactly an art therapist is. But becoming an art therapist requires many hours of supervision, a national exam, 1000 hours of direct client contact, and a 60 credit Masters program (at least in the state of Connecticut!). I am a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) , working towards my ATR (Registered Art Therapist). It has taken me years to earn this, and I'm finally getting close to the finish line. Being licensed as a counselor allows me to accept insurance, which I am currently working on!

I want to spread the word as much as possible about what we do.

There is a lot more to say, but I'll save that for another day. :) If you are interested in trying art therapy, I my studio/practice is located in Simsbury, CT but I will also be working at Apple Valley Behavioral Health in Plantsville starting 2018.

For more information, please visit American Art Therapy Association at

Thanks for reading!!

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