Type of Therapy – Art Therapy

The most-effective form of therapy is that which is most helpful to the individual. This means that no one definitive form of therapeutic intervention exists that is better than another. Some forms of mental health counseling currently have statistically higher success rates than others, but it is up to personal preference as to which form of therapy works best for that individual.

For example, some people find talk therapy, as utilized in many conventional forms of psychotherapy, provides the most-effective vehicle to enable them to process, reflect upon, and move forward from previous experiences. Others have difficulty verbalizing their emotions and require alternative therapeutic approaches to achieve the same result. Therefore, some therapeutic methods introduce additional activities to achieve satisfactory results. Some people, for instance, find meditation, with its soothing, flowing movements, provides the means to help them solve life situations and achieve a certain measure of happiness.

Art therapy is a popular alternative to traditional talk therapy. In this method, art becomes a medium to help the individual process emotions, reflect on, and share their feelings and thoughts. Art therapists sometimes combine art therapy with traditional psychotherapy methods.

What Is Art Therapy?

In art therapy, individuals use creative expression to produce various types of media, which helps them explore their innermost emotions and thoughts, reconcile conflicts, manage stress and anxiety, develop self-awareness, manage addiction and self-deprecating behaviors, and increase their sense of self-esteem. Most frequently introduced alongside more traditional forms of mental health counseling, art therapy also can take place independently of other therapeutic methods.

The primary goal of art therapy is to improve an individual’s personal sense of well-being by encouraging exploration into creative development. While some background knowledge of the artistic process is not typically necessary, this form of therapy is recommended for individuals at all creative levels, from novice to expert.

In fact, according to Good Therapy.org, “Neither previous artistic experience nor natural artistic ability is necessary for successful treatment.” Apart from an interest in engaging in creative activities, no additional requirements exist as to whom can participate in art therapy. An additional resource for individuals coping with psychological trauma or disorder, art therapy is often offered in clinical settings.

You may see art therapy practiced in:

  • Hospitals
  • Psychiatric rehabilitation centers
  • Crisis centers
  • Halfway houses and addiction rehabilitation centers
  • Domestic abuse shelters
  • Community organizations
  • Senior communities

Learn more about art therapy careers.

Common Health Issues Treated by Art Therapy

As an addition to a comprehensive mental health counseling program, art therapy is an ideal strategy. This form of therapy encourages personal development while providing the individual with space to process and grow through participation in an artistic medium. For many individuals, the process of creating art presents a creative outlet, functioning as a form of catharsis, while simultaneously providing a source for tension and stress relief. This mode of counseling provides benefits for people who are experiencing a wide range of issues, from post-trauma recovery to educational and social impairment. Many people turn to art therapy to express emotions while coping with intense anxiety or depression.

Art therapy is recommended as a resource for individuals who:

  • Have survived trauma, including rape victims and domestic abuse victims
  • Are coping with PTSD, including combat veterans
  • Have an adverse physical health condition, such as cancer, heart disease, or a traumatic brain injury
  • Are living with a high level of emotional, social, educational impairment
  • Are coping with hallucinations or other symptoms associated with a psychotic disorder

Art therapy also is recommended for individuals living with autism, dementia, social anxiety, or any other form of mental health problem that makes verbal communication more difficult.

Art Therapy Goals, Techniques, and Strategies

Art therapy comprises a great deal more than simply a blank canvas and a desire to create art. Art therapy relies on the guidance and counseling of a licensed mental health counselor who specializes in creative interventions. In any given art therapy session, the materials, setting, and outcome of the art produced may change. What doesn’t change, however, is the inclusion of the following therapeutic concepts:

  • Perception: Once art is created, it stands on its own for interpretation. Often, one individual’s perception of a piece of art is different from another person’s. Art therapy typically explores an individual’s understanding of what constitutes “self-perception” and “global perception.” Frequently produced or addressed perceptions become a stepping stone to help the individual both recognize and validate their emotions.
  • Personal Integration: The creative process becomes an avenue for the individual to incorporate personal experiences and express private thoughts in a non-threatening and non-challenging medium. Many participants find that, following art therapy, they grow more comfortable with their identity and self-image. This may occur as a result of making emotions visible through the artistic process, which provides a resource for the individual to visualize and conceptualize emotions that even they may not immediately recognize or understand.
  • Emotional Regulation: Art therapy focuses on the regulation of emotions and impulses by challenging the individual to channel expression through the creative process. The introduction of artistic expression frequently becomes a cathartic resource for emotional expression, which provides the individual with greater emotional control and the ability to self-regulate in social situations.
  • Behavior Modification: Again, by focusing on the artistic process, art therapy introduces an alternative means of perceiving behavior. By providing a space to rehearse alternative responses to existing personal narratives, the individual learns a potentially more helpful way to manage behaviors.

Limitations of Art Therapy

Art therapy is considered most useful in association with other forms of mental health counseling. Because they usually hold licensure in other forms of counseling as well, art therapists can integrate art therapy approaches into more traditional therapeutic programs. Often utilized as a form of group therapy, art therapy typically takes place with one counselor along with several other participants, all of whom interact with a specific artistic medium during the session. Therefore, art therapy is not always considered a suitable form of independent therapy.

Art therapy presents an ideal form of treatment for individuals with an artistic background, but those who are not familiar with art, or who may not be as interested in artistic expression, may not find this form of therapeutic intervention as beneficial. However, as noted, neither experience nor talent is a prerequisite for successful art therapy.

Becoming an Art Therapist

For those looking to combine a love of art with a desire to assist others, art therapy is an ideal form of counseling to pursue as a career. However, to provide art therapy as a legitimate form of mental health counseling, the therapist must be a licensed mental health counselor with a specialization in art therapy as a therapeutic technique.

Educational Requirements

To practice art therapy at any level, the therapist must hold a master’s degree in counseling psychology or its equivalent. Those who wish to specialize exclusively in art therapy should pursue a Master of Arts in Art Counseling. The American Art Therapy Association (AATA) establishes all educational requirements for practicing art therapy; it also publishes a comprehensive list of educational programs that meet the licensure requirements for art therapy.

To practice art therapy, the student must complete the following courses:

  • Theories of art therapy, counseling, and psychotherapy
  • Ethics and standards of practice
  • Assessment and evaluation
  • Individual, group, and family art therapy techniques
  • Human and creative development
  • Multicultural issues
  • Research methods
  • Internship experience in clinical and/ or community settings

In addition to all the licensure requirements, to practice art therapy, you must meet all educational, professional, and ethical standards set forth by the American Art Therapy Association (AATA). In addition, the therapist must maintain updated certification from the Art Therapy Credentials Board, Inc. (ATCB), which confers and administers professional credentials.

Licensure and Credentials: Becoming a Registered Art Therapist (ATR)

To become a registered art therapist, first complete all the required coursework, which includes successfully acquiring a master’s degree in counseling with a focus on art therapy, as well as the completion of post-education supervised clinical experience.

When candidates have met all the educational requirements, they must submit their transcripts and application to the Art Therapy Credentials Board. The application process includes the completion of a disciplinary and litigation history, which candidates must complete honestly. Any discrepancies on this form may result in denial.

Board Certified Art Therapist (ATR-BC)

Once you have satisfactorily completed all the requirements to become a Registered Art Therapist (ATR), you may begin the process of becoming a board-certified art therapist. Board certification is the highest credential that you can earn as a licensed therapist. Earning board certification signifies experience and competency within the field, and it can help direct prospective clientele to seek your services.

Board certification also frequently leads to increased employment opportunities, and it allows for an easier inter-state transition if you move and wish to maintain your certification qualifications. For more information about the application process, the therapeutic requirements necessary to become board certified, and to apply for certification, go to ATCG.org.

Art Therapy-Certified Supervisor (ATCS)

As part of becoming a registered art therapist, you must undergo a period of supervision for a pre-determined number of hours. The number of hours is determined by the state licensing council, so they may change from state to state. Once you have practiced art therapy for a certain period of time and have become a board-certified art therapist, you can become a supervisor. Doing so will provide you with an opportunity to guide future therapists as they complete their education. Board-certified art therapists can apply to become an art therapy-certified supervisor by contacting the art therapy certification board at ATCB.org.