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What is Art Therapy
Art therapy falls on a spectrum between art as therapy and art psychotherapy. There are benefits to each, but often the work we do falls somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. There is usually a blurry line between the two because art is inherently an expression of self and serves to communicate a feeling or message. It is a language that everyone has within them and everyone is able to relate to. This is because of “its inherent ability to help people of all ages explore themselves. This includes emotions and beliefs, reducing stress, resolving problems and conflicts, and enhancing their sense of well-being” (Malchiodi, 2012, p. viii).
Art therapy activates both the right and left sides of the brain. This results in a more integrated understanding of a person’s artwork. The right side is used when a person is creating artwork and the left side is used as the person speaks to or contemplates their artwork’s meaning. Art can benefit those who are unable to communicate verbally as it is its own form of communication. Art therapy is also helpful because a person can access feelings and memories that aren’t verbal. A person may not have words to describe how they are feeling, but they are still able to express how they feel through the creation of art. From there, with the help of an art therapist a person can discover what their psyche is trying to work out and express.
How Art Therapy Works
“There are many different approaches to art therapy. In general, art therapy involves the use of art and other visual media in a therapeutic or treatment setting” (Carpendale, 2009, p.3). Art as therapy focuses on the inherent healing quality of creating artwork, cathartic release, and art as a form of self-expression whereas art psychotherapy uses art to bring up unconscious material to consciousness through dialogue and associations (Carpendale, 2009)..
The art made in session could be a suggested directive from an art therapist where the goal is to focus on a specific need of the client or could be spontaneous art making. Spontaneous art making has no direction and allows the client to create on a subconscious level. Both hold many benefits. With a directive, the client has the opportunity to work on something specific that they are struggling with, with the goal of processing those feelings and working towards new perspectives that will foster change in a person’s life. Whereas spontaneous art-making can allow the client to bring up situations, issues, needs, and goals that they may have not been aware of before processing their artwork.
With the help of an art therapist, the client can talk through their art-making process and discover new things about themselves. Art can also allow us to see what is going on in our lives from a different perspective. Creating imagery in conjunction with speaking to what is going on in our lives, can allow us to see our internal struggles in a visual form. Allowing us to see them in a different light.
Further Reading and References:
- Carpendale, M. (2009). Essence and praxis in the art therapy studio. Place of publication not identified: Trafford On Demand Pub.
- Malchiodi, C. A. (2012). Handbook of art therapy (2nd ed.). New York: Guilford Press.
Written by: Amy Van Dongen, Art Therapist
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