It may surprise you to learn that art can be an effective tool in mental health treatment. What could art possibly have to do with psychotherapy? As an expressive medium, art can be used to help clients communicate, overcome stress and explore different aspects of their own personality. In psychology, the use of artistic methods to treat psychological disorders and enhance mental health is known as art therapy.
Art therapy is the therapeutic use of art making, within a professional relationship, by people who experience illness, trauma, or challenges in living, and by people who seek personal development. Through creating art and reflecting on the art products and processes,people can increase awareness of self and others, cope with symptoms, stress, and traumatic experiences; enhance cognitive abilities; and enjoy the life-affirming pleasures of making art.
Art therapists are professionals trained in both art and therapy. They are knowledgeable about human development, psychological theories, clinical practice, spiritual, multicultural and artistic traditions, and the healing potential of art. They use art in treatment, assessment and research, and provide consultations to allied professionals. Art therapists work with people of all ages: individuals, couples, families, groups and communities. They provide services, individually and as part of clinical teams, in settings that include mental health, rehabilitation, medical and forensic institutions; community outreach programs; wellness centers; schools; nursing homes; corporate structures; open studios and independent practices.
The purpose of art therapy is the same as any other psychotherapeutic modality: to improve or maintain mental health and emotional well-being. But whereas some of the other expressive therapies utilize the performing arts for expressive purposes, art therapy generally utilizes drawing, painting, sculpture, photography, and other forms of visual art expression. For that reason art therapists are trained to recognize the nonverbal symbols and metaphors that are communicated within the creative process, symbols and metaphors which might be difficult to express in words or in other modalities. By helping their clients to discover what underlying thoughts and feelings are being communicated in the artwork and what it means to them, it is hoped that clients will not only gain insight and judgment, but perhaps develop a better understanding of themselves and the way they relate to the people around them. Art making is seen as an opportunity to express oneself imaginatively, authentically, and spontaneously, an experience that, over time, can lead to personal fulfillment, emotional reparation, and transformation. The creative process can be a "health-enhancing and growth-producing experience.
Art Therapy As A Procedure
Art therapy can be used to treat a wide range of mental disorders and psychological distress. In many cases, it might be used in conjunction with other psychotherapy techniques such as group therapy or cognitive-behavioral therapy.
Some situations in which art therapy might be utilized include:
- Children with learning disabilities
- Adults experiencing severe stress
- Children suffering from behavioral or social problems at school or at home
- People experiencing mental health problems
- Individuals suffering from a brain injury
- Children or adults who have experienced a traumatic event
People always search for some escape from illness and its has been found that art is one of the more common methods. Art and the creative process can aid many illnesses. People can escape the emotional effects of illness through art making and many creative methods.
Art Therapy As A Career
Are you interested in a career in art therapy? While laws vary from state to state, in most cases you may need to first become a licensed clinical psychologist, professional counselor or social worker in order to offer psychotherapy services. According to the American Art Therapy Association, the minimum requirements:
- A master's degree in art therapy, or
- A master's degree in counseling or a related field with additional coursework in art therapy
Additional post-graduate supervised experience is also required.
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