Mental Health

Therapeutic Thursday: Art Therapy

Artist: Kim Puckett, Expressatory on FB

How many of you have heard of Art Therapy?
Yup, I have.

How many actually know what it is about other than making collages or painting/drawing random things?
Not I.

Did you know there is a legitimate, official American Art Therapy Association?
It was a surprise to me.

Here’s what they have to say on the subject:

What is Art Therapy? 
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. 

As you may have guessed by now, if you’ve been following along, writing is a form of therapy for me. It’s somewhat of a DIY therapeutic process, since it’s something I do independently and then share with my therapist, so she has an idea of where my head has been at in between the times we get to meet.

If I didn’t have the writing to share, my sessions with her would be less focused and, likely, less helpful for both of us – her in doing her job and myself in being able to process and move through overwhelm of my life and the unresolved trauma.

Art therapy is something that can really benefit children, according to Cathy Malchiodi PhD, LPCC, LPAT, ATR-BC, REAT.  I have no clue what the alphabet soup behind her name signifies. I just know that PhD means she went to school for a very long time. I suspect that the rest is an indication of the endorsements and classifications of the kind of therapy she’s allowed to practice. She wrote an article, Child Art Therapy: How It Works, published on January 31, 2016. In it she says:

…art created within the context of a therapeutic relationship is intended to help young clients not only to engage in self-exploration, it also involves purposeful meaning-making through specific art making.

The article goes on to identify five significant areas where art therapy is effective for children. I assume that the same would be true for adults, just on a more sophisticated or mature level.

Non-Verbal, Sensory-Based: For those who have experienced abuse, it is one way to “tell without talking” when they are unable or afraid to speak about specific events or feelings. It is also a sensory-based approach that allows the children to experience themselves and communicate on multiple levels—visual, tactile, kinesthetic and more—and to not only be heard [talk], but also be seen via images [art]. 

Growth and Development: Art expressions, particularly drawings, provide useful information on development in children, especially young clients who are 10 years or younger.

Self-Regulation: In particular, certain sensory characteristics of art making seem to be effective in improving mood, sensory integration, and calming the body and mind, especially with children who have experienced traumatic events.

Meaning-Making: Storytelling about a drawing, painting, collage or construction does not have to be literal to be therapeutic. In fact, a child who has experienced traumatic events or is challenged by an emotional disorder may only find it possible to generate imaginative stories. With the support and guidance of the therapist, these narratives serve as a way to slowly and safely release disturbing or terrorizing experiences.

I’ve been struggling to believe that the current therapist and agency is a good fit for my child, but, the more I find out about these things, the more I believe she needs someone with more experience and more specialized training. Once we can get her medical diagnosis through this agency, I think it will be time to search for someone who can work with her on these things.

The Autism Spectrum processes which all of her experiences, emotions, beliefs, and thoughts are filtered through, can be reached through more visual and artistic means, which are not my strengths . . . at all.

In the meantime, I think I’ll start watching this video I learned about through another Ultimate Blog Challenge participant on her blog, Ardent Reflections Fine Art, in the post, You Can Learn to Draw!



2 thoughts on “Therapeutic Thursday: Art Therapy”

  1. My sister finds that Zen Doodles and adult colouring books help her feel grounded and centered when life gets overwhelming. We were all born to create so I believe we tap something primal basic when we take the time to express ourselves.


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