What is art therapy?

Video editing by Kate Leppard

Art therapy utilizes the healing and self-reflective aspects of the creative process to address issues across the whole spectrum of human conditions. Art therapy is used in therapeutic treatment, prevention and rehabilitation. It can be valuable when working with children, adolescents and adults.

The visual and plastic arts have the advantage that they can bypass the often highly defended secondary process of language and permit direct expression of dreams, fantasies, fears and other inner experiences.

Art therapy has a firm basis in psychodynamic theory and developmental psychology. It uses art and the creative process to therapeutically explore and reconcile emotional conflicts, foster self-awareness, develop social skills, solve problems, reduce anxiety and increase self-esteem.

It is our experience that individuals can grow and develop a creative strong sense of self in an atmosphere of unconditional acceptance and positive regard, and that people need to experience empathic and authentic relationships with others in their lives. Developing creativity and fostering creative ability can build a sense of self as a creator and an attitude to life as a creative challenge.

Art therapy dates from the 1940s in North America and earlier in Great Britain. Although its roots in Europe can be traced to the birth of psychoanalysis with Freud and Jung, art therapy has deeper roots in symbolic healing traditions and Indigenous cultures around the world. University courses linking psychiatry and art began in the 1960s and the American Art Therapy Association was formed in 1969, followed by the Canadian Art Therapy Association in 1977. In the past fifty years art therapy has gained maturity and is now accepted as a “unique profession, combining a deep understanding of art and the creative process with an equally sophisticated comprehension of psychology and psychotherapy.” Rubin, J. A. (2010). Introduction to Art Therapy: Sources & Resources. New York, NY: Routledge.