What is Art Therapy?

Art Therapy, as a form of psychotherapy, is an interdisciplinary practice across health and medicine, using various visual art forms such as drawing, painting, sculpture and collage. Some art therapists also use phototherapy, play and sandtray work. Generally, it is based on psychoanalytic or psychodynamic principles, but all therapists are free to utilise whatever theoretical base they feel comfortable with.

Art Therapy is a therapeutic and diagnostic tool where therapist and client/s develop a dynamic interpersonal relationship, with firm boundaries and clear goals. It differs from traditional art in that the emphasis is on the process of creating rather than on the end product.

Art Therapy is a creative process, suitable for all ages, and particularly for those who may be experiencing life changes, trauma, illness or disabilities, causing distress for the individual and for their family.

What are Art Therapists?

Art therapists have a first degree in such fields as Visual Arts, Arts, Psychology, Psychiatry, Nursing, Social Work, Occupational Therapy or Education. They may also have more specialised Certificates or Diplomas in such areas as Mental Health, Drug and Alcohol, Counselling, Gerontology, Family Therapy, Child Psychotherapy, etc. Most will have a Masters Degree in Art Therapy from a course in Australia; or an overseas Masters or Postgraduate Diploma. Some other tertiary institutions are offering electives in Art Therapy as part of other higher degrees and some private agencies are also offering Art Therapy courses.

How does Art Therapy work?

Children and adults are not always able to verbalise about what is happening for them, or how they feel about it. Others may over-verbalise, blocking feelings and thoughts which need expression. Interaction may be totally non-verbal until there is confidence to communicate verbally. It may be totally verbal until there is courage to mark a blank piece of paper, work with clay or make a mask. In other words, the Art Therapist provides a safe non-threatening space, and invites the individual (or group) to explore their issues by using whatever variety of media he or she feels appropriate and comfortable with.

Each session is a confidential record, showing patterns of feelings, thoughts and behaviour. While the therapist and client work together to understand the product of each session, this product must be seen as a reflection of the meaning for that person, through their own discovery.

Gradually, this creative, therapy contributes to changes in the client's inner world, developing a more integrated sense of self and to an increase in self awareness, self understanding and self acceptance.

Where do Art Therapists work?

Currently, Art Therapists are working in private practice, as well as in public and private agencies with other allied health professionals and in multi-disciplinary teams. For example: public and private psychiatric hospitals, prisons, family welfare agencies, nursing homes, rehabilitation centres, drug and alcohol units, women's health centres and community health centres.

How does Art Therapy help?

Ability to express feelings difficult to discuss
Stimulates imagination and creativity
Develops healthy coping skills and focus
Increases self esteem and confidence
Clarifies issues and concerns
Increases communication skills
Ability to share a safe nurturing environment
Assists with development of motor skills and physical co-ordination
Ability to identify feelings and blocks to emotional expression and personal growth.

                     ----- The Australian National Art Therapy Association Inc. (ANATA) -----

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