Using Art as Therapy
by Doctor Tate
Say counseling or therapy to most people and the image that comes to mind is of someone in a quiet room, talking with a counseling professional, discussing problems. And while it’s true many counseling sessions do take that form, there are also a number of other counseling techniques that bring strong, positive results.
One such approach is using art as therapy.
Art really isn’t that surprising as a form of therapy when you think about how artistic people often talk about their art. Whether they express themselves through painting, music, dance or writing, artists frequently acknowledge the affect of their moods on their art.
Similarly, who hasn’t felt his own mood affected by an artistic endeavor — a song or piece of music that brings an emotional reaction each time you hear it?
A painting you’ve viewed that made you feel sad or happy?
Emotions and feelings have always been a part of the world of art. Many of the great works of art were produced under stress, out of depression and frustration, or as a result of a strong need to communicate. The paintings of Vincent Van Gogh are one strong example of this, Picasso’s “Blue Period” another. When we are dealing with stress and depression, for example, art can become a valuable tool used both to inspire and to serve as a medium through which our innermost thoughts and feelings can be expressed.
Art therapy is both art and therapy. It is the use of drawing, painting, and sculpture in therapy to help someone get to those inner feelings. Sessions are conducted by a trained therapist, but they differ from art lessons in that the process of creating is stressed over the finished product.
Developing artistic skills is not the goal and a person need not have artistic abilities to benefit from art therapy.
In art therapy, art is used as a meeting ground of inner and outer worlds. It can be a means to reconcile conflicts or foster awareness and personal growth. We have all experienced times when words just get in the way, or inadequately express what we are feeling. Moving away from verbal expression toward a graphic representation of we’re experiencing often yields surprising results and insights to our internal state. It is not unusual for unresolved needs or forgotten memories to surface spontaneously in the images produced. Too often, in this society dependent on cell phones, computers and TV, we underestimate the effectiveness of nonverbal communication.
There are other advantages to using art as therapy. One is that it gives a permanent representation of the situation, allowing the client and therapist to review what was expressed weeks or months after the session.
Creating art may also help someone relax and build a better rapport with the therapist. In more traditional counseling sessions, people are often anxious about what to say. Drawing, however, is often less threatening than verbal self-disclosure.
Yet another advantage of art therapy is that the therapist can use drawings to aid in the process of diagnosis and treatment planning. Progress in therapy can often be monitored by reviewing the changes in a client’s art work.
Art therapy programs come in a variety of forms. In larger institutions there may be expensive equipment such as canvas, easels and kilns. Such materials may be beneficial, but aren’t necessary. Some of the most therapeutic and rewarding sessions have been conducted using a broken pencil and a scrap of paper.
Some art therapy programs are conducted in a group setting, while other times the therapist may determine that individual sessions are more beneficial. Similarly, sessions are sometimes highly structured, addressing a specific issue with clear objectives. In other cases, a therapist may encourage more spontaneity, encouraging the participant to draw whatever he chooses with few, if any, suggestions from the therapist. Together, client and therapist will then attempt to interpret the drawings.
Many counselors believe creativity and imagination are important aspects of the therapeutic process. Art therapy has proven to be an ideal technique to tap into both. For more information on the use of art therapy, try a search on the Internet, or visit the psychology section at your local library or bookstore for the many books published on this topic.
Dr. Tate is a psychologist at Eastern State Hospital in Williamsburg, Virginia, the nation’s oldest public hospital. Source: http://healthcare.monster.ca/7145_en-CA_p1.asp