What is art therapy exactly?

“The task of therapy is not to eliminate suffering but to give a voice to it, to find a form in which it can be expressed. Expression is itself transformation; this is the message that art brings. The therapist then would be an artist of the soul, working with sufferers to enable them to find the proper container for their pain, the form in which it would be embodied.”
– Stephen K. Levine

Art therapy is a type of therapy that uses art making by the client, while they work with an art therapist.

It is a healing modality that can be used to help clients with mental or physical health challenges. It is often used in aged care, with children, for veterans, in women’s health, and more!

It is highly relational! The relationship between the client and art therapist plays a big role in the process.

It is also very much about the art work – the art making process can give space for reflection, self knowledge, expressing emotions, and building our sense of what we are capable of.

Art therapy groups can be quite diverse in terms of participants’ life experience, mental health experiences, previous experience with art making, cognitive capacity, personalities and behaviors. The goal of an art therapy group is typically to engage people in relationship with therapist and each other, to create focus and access inner states in art making, to use the art therapy process for reflection and insight, and to develop confidence and skills in a social setting.

No specific art skills or experience needed. This isn’t an art class and it isn’t competitive. The emphasis is on the process and experience of creating – how it makes us feel, what new insights it can bring, and how we can make meaning from the experience and the work, rather than mastering a specific art making skill. In addition, the art therapist is experienced with different materials and processes, and will gently introduce you to the materials so that you can use them with confidence.

Art therapy can help contain emotions, as well as providing a space to access and feel emotions. It is a space to practice speaking our truth and being heard. It is an opportunity to get to know ourselves and our situation a little deeper. Sometimes it can be paired with positive psychology approaches to explore and celebrate our strengths and our resilience. It can also be a safe space for dreaming about the future and sharing goals and aspirations.

In an art therapy session you might discuss your current situation with the art therapist and then have time to make art. The art therapist will often suggest materials or a type of art making to fit the theme of the discussion and the therapeutic goals.

Some clients find sessions help them take stock, feel more empowered, feel more confident and feel more connected with their creativity.