People are often curious about what art therapy is and who benefits from it. I’m usually asked if I provide therapy to artists or if I work with children. While many art therapists work with children, and there are certainly some who work with professional artists, art therapy benefits people of all ages and with any level of artistic ability.
Art therapy does not require a background in visual arts; I’ve found this to be one of the biggest misconceptions. In my experience, most of my clients have not picked up art materials since grade school. Many of my adult clients tell me they aren’t creative, and initially come to me for traditional talk psychotherapy. I value talk therapy and always welcome it but also offer my clients the opportunity to engage in artmaking once they feel ready. Feeling apprehensive is completely typical. Some clients try artmaking during the first session, while it takes several weeks for others.
I would describe art therapy as a way to outwardly examine one’s internal feelings and emotions for the purpose of self-realization and growth. The use of simple art materials can deepen the therapeutic process by bringing one’s unconscious feelings and experiences up to consciousness. Every client comes in with different goals in mind, and my humanistic approach to art therapy varies by individual. One has the opportunity to give physical form to thoughts, emotions and feelings that have existed internally prior to this experience.
Sometimes it’s helpful to create distance between ourselves and what we have bottled up inside. Creative expression through artmaking provides safety for exploring difficult feelings without having to rely on verbal communication. The use of metaphor in art therapy is powerful and helps clients feel safe in exploring their feelings, emotions and experiences.
Many people assume that I interpret my clients’ artwork- this is not true. The images they create are unique to their own individuality. I’m here to give direction when needed and navigate through the artwork alongside my client. My role is to reveal important insights to my clients through their imagery, and help them find inner wisdom and deeper knowledge of themselves. It’s about the process, not the final product.