Art therapy is a modality in the psychology field that's focus is on the transformative power of nonverbal language. Because art therapy brings together the fields of art and psychology, it integrates visual arts, human development, behavior, mental health, creative process, imagination and personality. It is based on the belief that the act of art making can help us understand more of who we are, enhance lives, and lead us towards personal growth through self-expression.
Although art therapy as a modern profession is quite new, creative expression through visual art is one of the oldest forms of healing in history. This is the way that mankind began expressing itself as a means of communication on cave walls, through hieroglyphics and within sand paintings. Art has always been a way to express the deepest of sorrow as well as the most joyous of moments. The expression of these many varied emotions has brought catharsis and self-awareness to many an accomplished artist and non-artist.
How Can Art Be Healing?
Art therapy enables people to express themselves in areas that are impossible to express in words. Since art expression does not occur, as a linear process as is found in spoken language, there is the ability to allow ambiguous, confusing and contradictory elements to show up in the art. This ability of art to contain paradoxical elements helps people more easily integrate and synthesize conflicting feelings and experiences...
The sensory qualities of art making are a way to move more readily into our emotions and perceptions than spoken word alone. The tactile quality of the art materials allows us to integrate healing qualities such as the ability to relax, self-soothe, and enhance emotional catharsis.
The art making process can literally be a means of "cleansing" to discharge strong emotions for relief. The alleviation of stress and anxiety through creative expression can then offer a physiological response of reduced blood pressure, decreased heart rate and respiration, while pleasure enhancing biochemicals such as serotonin and endorphins are increased.
Expressive art also touches us at a soul level by enabling people to overcome feelings of existential emptiness and disconnection that is often felt in our modern culture. It allows us to become more connected to our inner selves in relationship to "other," the world, and spirit. In doing so, art making becomes an enlivening and energizing experience. It helps us grow, self-actualize and problem-solve more readily. We find new ways of seeing.
Who Can Benefit From Art Therapy?
A common misperception of art therapy is that people need to be artistically inclined in order to participate. The beauty of art as therapy is that artistic ability is not required, because art expression in any form is embraced. The goal here is not that one make masterpieces, but rather to have an understanding and acceptance that everyone has an innate ability to be creative. Through the process of creating one can gain personal insight, new perspective, and have an opportunity to transform.
What is an Art Therapy Session Like?
In all forms of psychotherapy, the presence of a professional facilitator is a central aspect to the healing process. Having a safe, trusting relationship with an art therapist along with the making of art enhances the potential growth within the client. Within an art therapy session, the therapist can serve as a supportive guide to clients' exploration of materials, help with the examination of content and meaning of images, and be a compassionate witness to the artists' expressions. The therapist's non-judgmental presence can be the impetus for a client to take risks, build self-esteem skills and find insight during sessions. These new found skills could then translate further into his or her daily life, thus allowing for transformation to occur.
Did You Know...
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢That 97% of 2,000 hospitals surveyed had implemented expressive arts programs.
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢That CareerBuilder.com, recognizing it's increased popularity and validity in the mental health field, rated art therapy as one of the top 10 careers of 2007.
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢That art therapy has been acknowledged as a "mind-body intervention" by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, in recognition of the power of self-expression and creative process in mental, physical, and spiritual health.About the Author:
Tanya Vallianos, MA, is a counselor in private practice in Fort Collins who specializes in art therapy, mindfulness, and body-centered practices. Tanya can be contacted here: Good Therapy / Therapist Plesantville