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Art Therapy 101

Updated: Apr 19, 2023

What is Art Therapy?

Art therapy is a mental health profession that enriches the lives of individuals, families, and communities through active art-making, creative processes, applied psychological theory, and human experience within a psychotherapeutic relationship.

Who Are Art Therapists?

Art therapists are credentialed mental health professionals. They are trained in a broad range of psychological theories and ways to use art media and creative processes to help people cope with mental health challenges. Art therapists hold Masters-level or higher degrees. Look for a therapist with the credentials ATR (art therapist registered) or ATR-BC (board-certified art therapist registered).

Where do Art Therapists Work?

Art therapists serve diverse communities in different settings—from medical institutions like hospitals, cancer treatment centers, and psychiatric facilities, to wellness centers and schools. Many art therapists have independent practices. They also help support individuals and communities after a crisis or traumatic event.

Why is Art Therapy Effective?

Art therapy is particularly effective during times of crisis, changes in circumstances, trauma, and grief. According to research, art therapy helps people feel more in control of their own lives and helps relieve anxiety and depression, including among cancer patients, tuberculosis patients in isolation, and military veterans with PTSD. In addition, art therapy assists in managing pain by moving the mental focus away from the painful stimulus

Do I have to be good at art?

You don’t have to be an artist or even “artsy” to make art. Everyone is creative! In art therapy sessions, your art therapist may encourage you to try different art media such as colored pencils, paints, clay, and collage. Sometimes non-traditional art materials (e.g. tree branches and leaves) are intentionally introduced to you in order to expand your creative expression. You may also explore different styles of expression, using doodling, abstract designs, and contour drawing. Art therapists are trained to facilitate a type of art-making for your specific needs. However, to experience the process of art therapy, it’s important to work with a trained and credentialed art therapist.

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