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Art Therapy Changes Lives

When words are not enough, we turn to images and symbols to tell our stories. And in telling our stories through art, we find pathways to wellness, recovery, and transformation. Art therapy is a mental health profession in which clients, facilitated by the art therapist, use art media, the creative process, and the resulting artwork to explore their feelings, reconcile emotional conflicts, foster self-awareness, manage behavior and addictions, develop social skills, improve reality orientation, reduce anxiety, and increase self-esteem. A goal in art therapy is to improve or restore a client’s functioning and his or her sense of personal well-being. Art therapy practice requires knowledge of visual art (drawing, painting, sculpture,  and other art forms) and the creative process, as well as of human development, psychological, and counseling theories and techniques.

Today art therapy is widely practiced in a wide variety of settings including hospitals, psychiatric and rehabilitation facilities,  wellness centers, forensic institutions, schools, crisis centers, senior communities, private practice, and other clinical and community settings. During individual and/or group sessions art therapists elicit their clients’ inherent capacity for art making to enhance their physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Research supports the use of art therapy within a professional relationship for the therapeutic benefits gained through artistic self-expression and reflection for individuals who experience illness, trauma, and mental health problems and those seeking personal growth. 

Who Benefits from Art Therapy?

Art therapy is practiced in mental health, rehabilitation, medical,  educational, forensic, wellness, private practice and community settings with diverse client populations in individual, couples, family, and group therapy formats. Art therapy is an effective treatment for people experiencing developmental, medical, educational, and social or psychological impairment. Individuals who benefit from art therapy include those who have survived trauma resulting from combat,  abuse, and natural disaster; persons with adverse physical health conditions such as cancer, traumatic brain injury, and other health disability; and persons with autism, dementia, depression, and other disorders. Art therapy helps people resolve conflicts, improve interpersonal skills, manage problematic behaviors, reduce negative stress, & achieve personal insight. Art therapy also provides an opportunity to enjoy the life-affirming pleasures of art-making.

How Does it Work?

Three are many possible answers to how Art Therapy works: The easiest answer is that it works by giving a person a different way to express their thoughts and feelings  – both through the image they create and the physical aspect of making the art.  Another answer in that Art is considered a “language” and its lexicon is that of the symbol.  Symbols, metaphors, dreams, and wishes all have their origins in the unconscious.  Because Art uses symbols, it can be an effective way to access the unconscious.  The field of Neuroscience and advances such as MRI and PET imaging has begun to answer with proof that  Art Therapy works and that it has a positive effect psychologically & emotionally, precisely because it affects the wiring in the brain.  For example, Neuroscientists can see that when someone imagines doing something like watching a sunset or riding a bicycle, those areas of the brain involved in actually doing the activity light up.  Drawing or making an image is more powerful than simply imagining it.  It can & does make lasting changes in the brain. 


What is Art Therapy?

Why Art Therapy?