Art Therapy uses art-making and other expressive techniques to deepen the therapeutic process and promote positive change. Like Play Therapy, it is a powerful modality when words are not enough.
Clients create unique and meaningful expressions which can become lasting symbols of their experience in therapy. Art Therapy can be a primary form of treatment, as well as a complement to other counseling approaches. It is used with people of all ages, from pre-school children to elders—and no previous art experience is necessary.
So often, children cannot directly tell us their feelings or explain their experiences. Through self-expression, young clients can show us their emotions, how they see the world, and where they are feeling stuck. The multi-layered creative process offers young artists a way to both cover and reveal, to spill and to contain, and to transform chaos into order. According to the American Art Therapy Association, “…the creative process involved in artistic self-expression helps people to resolve conflicts and problems, develop interpersonal skills, manage behavior, reduce stress, increase self-esteem and self-awareness, and achieve insight.”
Art therapy also offers assessment tools which can reveal aspects of a child’s developmental level and identify areas of potential strength or weakness that may not be otherwise apparent. One such evaluation, “The Bird’s Nest Drawing”, offers a relatively gentle way for the clinician to assess a client’s “attachment security.” This information is particularly relevant for our work with children who have experienced attachment disruptions, such as placement in foster care or the loss of a parent.
In treatment, art therapists offer specific art directives based on the client’s unique needs. Some examples of these directives are to:
- Decorate a box that can be used to “contain” a child’s worries
- Use art materials to create a safe zone for feelings and memories to be both expressed and contained
- Sew “comfort pillows” with positive messages inside to develop the capacity for self-soothing
These creative interventions can help children and teens develop a sense of mastery over their concerns, access meaningful symbols to work with, and offer concrete opportunities to literally transform their worries right before their eyes.
Art therapy can also be used with families, offering parents and children a chance to interact in new ways and to co-create new connections and healthy boundaries. Because the creative process utilizes symbols and metaphors, families often find these interventions playful, approachable, and emotionally safe. Art therapy offers one way to level the playing field, so to speak, for the younger family members who are not yet verbally sophisticated enough to fully engage in “talk therapy.” By inviting our personal imagery into therapy, we can explore and resolve issues in creative, and sometimes unexpected, ways.