Over the past year, Rangeview has begun offering art therapy to both their groups and individual clients, but why choose art therapy? Art therapy is not just arts and crafts during the therapy session, nor is it a practice reserved only for children. Art therapy can be used with any population including teens, adults, families, couples, and groups dealing with various clinical challenges. Clients do not even need to consider themselves artists in order to benefit from art therapy, because it is not about artistic skills, rather about expression and exploration. Art therapy is manner of connecting with and utilizing art materials, and through this creating images and symbols as a way of communicating. Although it is not only about the end results, because the way the artist (the client) uses the art materials, as in controlled, technical, or chaotic to name a few examples, can communicate valuable non-verbal information as well.
As with many forms of therapy, art therapy evokes resistance that takes a variety of forms. This resistance can look like unwillingness to make art, the making of impersonal imagery, humor, regression to earlier forms of behavior, or perfectionist fussing over details. The benefit here is the art materials allowing the process to be worked through tangibly. Art is a means of an immediate outlet for the release of emotions that get stirred up during a session. The art can contain difficult emotions, memories, and processes for clients, while simultaneously expressing and examining their experiences. Different materials can reflect the inner experience of the person engaging in the art making. Texture, layering, color, fluidity, rigidness, and other aspects of the media can be a direct reflection or mirror of inner states of the mind and body.
Art facilitates the bridge from bringing the unconscious to the conscious realm of understanding, and the creative process allows even the most ineffable experiences and sensations to become accessible. Therefore this makes art therapy and art assessments important tools for trauma informed care. Art therapy shows us how engaging with one’s imagination through lines, shapes, colors, form, and texture allow us to track our unconscious processes through exploration, rather than only observation. In addition to this, the use of imagination stimulates changes in the brain which allow us to make adjustments and shifts in our understandings and attitudes, even without the physical interactions with the subjects we are basing our imaginal process around.
The art making process may not be necessary in every session or with every client, but it is of value for both clinicians and clients to understand the value of how art expands the reflection process beyond the verbal discussion. Artists, teachers, and therapists who have not been trained in art therapy, may bring in therapeutic “art activities” to their work, but without a trained art therapist it is qualitatively different work from art therapy as a whole. If you are interesting in learning more about the definitions of art therapy and how it works, I have attached a small list of resources that I used to write this blog post.
Gussak, D. E., & Rosal, M. L. (2016). The Wiley Handbook of Art Therapy. New York: Wiley.
Malchiodi, K. (2008). Handbook of Art Therapy (2nd ed). New York, NY: Guilford Press.
Robbins, A. (1987). The Artist as Therapist. New York: Human Sciences Press.
Rubin, J. (2010) Introduction to art therapy: Sources & resources. New York, NY: Routledge.
Rubin, J.A. (1987). Approaches to Art Therapy. New York: Brunner/Mazel.
Swan-Foster, N. (2018). Jungian art therapy: A guide to dreams, images, and analytical psychology. New York, NY: Routledge.