Wednesday, March 2, 2011

what the heck is art therapy anyways?


Whenever I mention my work as an art therapist, I always get a few comments asking what art therapy actually is and how it works. That, my friends, is a good question. It's a question that comes up basically every time I tell someone I'm an art therapist. No one having any idea what you do is all part of the art therapist territory. This also means that I get lots and lots of chances to introduce people, like you!, to the wonderful world of my work. 

What is art therapy?
Art therapy is a form of expressive therapy that combines psychotherapeutic theories and techniques with the creative process. Instead of just talking about a problem over and over again, art therapy gives people a chance to engage in a visual/auditory/kinesthetic experience as an alternative means of processing issues. Art therapy not only uses the inherent healing power of the creative process but also focuses on the idea that art can be a means of symbolic communication.

Me & art therapy

Art therapy is a Master's level profession. I earned my Master's degree in Art Therapy Counseling a few years ago and recently earned my ATR (Art Therapist Registered) credential. Basically, the ATR means I'm a legit art therapist now :)

I work in a psychiatric hospital as an art therapist. Most people assume that art therapy is only used with kids. Not so. Art therapy can be used with any age and I get the opportunity to do just that in my work at the hospital. I run art therapy groups with children, teenagers, adults, and families. I work with people who are severely and chronically mentally ill and/or who are dealing with substance abuse issues. I love my job. 

What an art therapy group could look like:

My groups can be very different. It all depends on the population I'm working with and their needs in the moment. I think breaking it down by age is the easiest way to see the range and variety of what art therapy can be like. 

Children's group: 
I'll bring in a great big piece of butcher paper, some markers, colored pencils, and oil pastels and have the kids work to create an island together. 
 
This directive usually brings up a lot of themes that we talk about at the end of group. For example, issues like positive friendshipping, boundaries, communication, and problem-solving show themselves pretty quickly when you're having hospitalized children work together on one artwork.

Adolescent group:
One directive that I do a lot with the teenagers is "inside/outside." Basically, I'll go into the group, we'll do the intros/check-in and then I'll say something like, "Today's theme is inside/outside. Interpret it however you'd like and then make a drawing about it." Once the artwork is done, we sit together in a circle with everyone's drawing on the floor in front of them. Then we go around and each kid has a chance to explain their art, answer other's questions, and get feedback from their peers
 
Issues that come up from this kind of directive is the idea of feeling one way on the inside but putting on "a mask" or showing a different emotion on the outside. When the kids do the art about this, it gives them a chance to visually explore their inside/outside selves and then safely reveal both sides to the whole group. 
 
Other directives I often do with adolescents include: 
 
draw something that's hard for you to talk about
draw how you are now and how you want to be
free drawing

Working with teenagers is my favorite. They really love being able to express themselves creatively and will quickly grasp onto the art process as a way to address relevant therapeutic issues. 
 
Family group: 
I also lead a multi-family adolescent group. So we have the kids with their family members (usually parents) all in one group. For this group, what I usually have the kids draw something they really want to say to their family and, similarly, have the family members each draw something they really want to say to their child. Again, once finished with the art, they get the chance to share the meanings behind their artworks with each other. 

Different themes emerge every time with this group in particular. Regardless of the issues that pop up, however, it's almost always very emotional with a lot of crying and hugs.

Adult group: 
Once a week I do a group with adults who are either severely depressed and/or are going through medically-assisted detox. I bring in paper, glue sticks, and magazines and have them make a collage about "hope." At the end, we share the finished collages and they talk about things that came up for them during the process. 
 
This is a great directive because it serves multiple purposes all at once. The process of making a collage can be not only fun and creative but also soothing and calming. It forces the person to focus all their attention to what they are doing in front of them. People often comment on how nice and relaxing it felt to do the collage. At the end, they also have a visual, tangible product of personal hope for them to hold onto and take with them. Win win.

More art therapy info:

So there you have it. Sam and art therapy in a nutshell. 
Please feel free to ask any/all further questions you may have. I love telling people about art therapy and I'll try my best to answer them!

Kudos to you if you read this entire post.

22 comments:

candace said...

your job is way cooler than mine.

Emily said...

that is so awesome! I've never heard about art therapy and really enjoyed learning about it from you! It sounds very rewarding!

Diana Smith said...

I would love to do art therapy! What fun!!

everyone calls me bon bon said...

Amazing! Art therapy is so healing. Back in highschool/college, I volunteered at The Dougy Center, (a non-profit focused on helping grieving children, etc). We did a LOT of art therapy. So beautiful. xoxo

Mrs. Biscuit said...

Thanks for posting this! It's wonderful to hear (read) you speak about your profession with such passion and dedication. Therapy is something that definitely take a strong soul and character. I can imagine being an art therapist definitely helps make your job less doom and gloom than talk therapy in an office.
I've always loved seeing how people express themselves through art, movement, etc. I imagine your job is emotionally and spiritually fulfilling and it give me hope (as a fellow psych major) that I'll find a way to help others in a way that works for me!
I really really enjoyed reading this, great post!

mskanorado said...

This was such an interesting post! I knew the concept but enjoyed reading the depth of it! Thanks for posting! Sounds like fun!!

Jenny said...

I did read the whole thing! I found it really interesting, thanks for sharing!! I love how legit you are.

Señora H-B said...

Thanks for describing your job. I've always wondered what an art therapist does. Now I know!

Natalie said...

Your job sounds so awesome. Thank you for sharing and explaining!!

Megan said...

LOVE art therapy. I worked in a childrens hospital in the states in the child life department and we had art therapists come in all of the time for the children. They LOVED it. it has such a huge impact on decreasing stress and pain levels.

love love.

xx

Michele (SHP) said...

Thank you bunches and bunches for finding my blog!
I looove yours! Your art is FANTASTIC!
I'm a pediatric physical therapist by day (photographer and crafter in my heart) and I love art therapy. I wish it was something used in more clinics!

~Michele

Shalyn said...

What you do sounds so neat- I had no idea that is what art therapy entails! I really admire what you do.

Ashley said...

I love that you do this. You are pretty amazing.

... said...

Wow, what a great post! This is something I'd really be interested in learning more about. Since I haven't reached college yet, this might be in my future. Can't wait to do some more research on it!

Emma said...

reading this brought back so many memories of my summer at uni! i learned so much there, and a lot of it was through attending the art therapy groups with the patients. i have a watercolor painting i did in an adult group with the art therapist ray and it is now framed and on my bookshelf. :) (i am very proud with how it turned out, i am NOT very artistic...) i think art therapy is wonderful.

stace said...

I'm so happy to have come across your blog... it's adorable! Art therapy isn't new to me--I come from a family of artists and musicians--but I really enjoyed reading your post! I read some of your earlier posts about the robbery and can't even believe it--I hope things are starting to come together. That can be so devastating, but it sounds like you and your husband kept the right perspective. Looking forward to reading more posts! :]

Miriam Lusk said...

Love it!

aunt khali said...

What a gift -- to share with us all. Thanks

Liesl @ FabulousFashions4SensibleStyle said...

I've heard of art therapy...what a fun post! :) A friend of mine is a therapist and was telling us all about this a few months ago! Lovely blog!

Liesl :)

AE Jones said...

Read the whole thing - I'm SO glad you wrote about this. I'm been so interested in hearing more about what you do. Major respect, darlin! Keep it up!

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