What is Art Therapy?
According to the American Art Therapy Association, 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.” An Art Therapist is trained in all the same skills as a psychotherapist with additional training in Art Therapy. Therefore, a session will involve regular talk therapy and, if the client is interested, use of art materials to explore ideas or relationships that have come up.
How does art therapy work?
There aren’t always words for our inner experiences, and it can be challenging at times to translate our feelings into words. Verbal processing isn’t the only way to express something and move through it. Art materials, along with the Art Therapist relationship, help us make contact with internal emotions and experiences and translate them into external form. This transformative process of sublimation allows for greater agency over these inner forces. As we feel into sadness, for example, and make a painting about that sadness, we begin to see it in a new way and naturally find new and creative ways of working with it. The art materials themselves each have unique qualities and capacities, thus holding unique roles in the healing process.
Images take me apart; images put me back together again, new, enlarged, with breathing room.
- Pat Allen, Art is a Way of Knowing
Is previous art training necessary?
Not at all. Art Therapy is not about making “pretty” things, or even making realistic drawings. It’s about the process of expressing yourself in new and honest ways, whether that is through drawing, collage, clay, or even simple stick figures. As my teacher Dr. Michael Franklin would say, “The best art is the most honest art.”
Art and soul
Images come in many forms— via dreams, paintings, poetry, songs that get stuck in our heads, scribbles and doodles we make, pages we leave blank, etc. By bringing awareness to our inner imagery, and by cultivating a relationship with these places in ourselves, we become deeply connected with our innate wisdom, intuition, and ability to heal. Art work is soul work, and having a witness (like an art therapist) to our creative unfolding is deeply nourishing and helps make transformation possible.
I am certain of nothing but of the holiness of the Heart's affections, and the truth of Imagination.
- John Keats
Who is Art Therapy for?
Art Therapy has proven to be useful for adults, adolescents, children, and elders working through depression, anxiety, trauma, loss of meaning, addiction, relationship issues, grief and loss, and much more. Medicinal Mindfulness offers Art Therapy in individual and group settings for the treatment of numerous clinical concerns. We also specialize in art-based psychedelic integration.
Art and Mindfulness
Making art is a contemplative practice which helps us to know and understand ourselves. The process, if we pay close attention to it, reveals unconscious material and teaches us new ways of being in the world.
The desire to see and the need to be seen cannot be over-estimated; when such seeing and being seen take place it is like a blessing.
- James Hillman
Art and the Body
Art-making is a whole-body sensory experience which can awaken and enliven us as we create. Colors splash across the page, and onto our skin, and our bodies move in hundreds of various rhythms to create. Our breath intensifies and regulates over the course of an art-making session. In a world so filled with flat screens, art materials bring us back into the wisdom and aliveness of our own bodies. They engage our senses and call us home.
Pleasure and Remembering How to Feel Good
In some ways Art Therapy is simple: making art is fun, and that makes us feel better! Getting our hands covered with clay, watching vibrant paint colors spread across the canvas, mixing watercolor for the sheer pleasure of it, being surprised with what happens, watching something fall apart and come back together in a new way… these experiences bring us pleasure and can make us feel really good. With trauma, grief, and general life stressors sometimes we get overwhelmed and forget to enjoy ourselves. We can forget how to feel good. Art Therapy supports clients in remembering how to feel good.
Remember how to feel good.
- Alison McQueen