Discover the Healing Power of Art Therapy

Art is not always about pretty things. It’s about who we are, what happened to us, and how our lives are affected. - Elizabeth Broun

What is Art Therapy? Art therapy is a mental health profession that integrates active art-making, the creative process, applied psychological and developmental theory, and human experience. It has the unique ability to unlock emotional expression by facilitating non-verbal communication. Art therapy can be especially useful in cases where traditional talk-based psychotherapy has been ineffective by providing an alternative means of communicating for those who can’t find the words to adequately express their experiences, pain or emotions. Art therapy draws from and expands upon traditional psychology theories including psychoanalytic, object relations, phenomenology, gestalt, humanistic, cognitive behavioral, developmental, solution-focused, and narrative. While art therapy shares many common elements with traditional mental health professions, it is distinguished by the combining of psychological knowledge and therapeutic skills with an understanding of art media, the neurobiological implications of art-making, and the creative process. It is the recognition of the ability of art and art-making to reveal thoughts and emotions, together with the knowledge and skills to safely manage the reactions they may evoke, that distinguish art therapy as a separate profession. What Does Art Therapy Do? Art therapists facilitate clients’ use of art media, the creative process, and often verbal processing of the produced artwork to:
  • Increase insight, self-awareness, and self-esteem
  • Discover new meaning and purpose
  • Foster empowerment and personal growth
  • Safely express complex and difficult life experiences, feelings and ideas
  • Resolve conflicts and problems and cultivate emotional resilience
  • Reduce distress from anxiety, depression, traumatic memories and grief
  • Promote self-soothing and relaxation
  • Enhance communication and social skills
  • Manage behavior and strengthen coping skills
  • Improve cognitive and sensory-motor functions
Who Can Benefit from Art Therapy? Art therapy can be used by anyone, regardless of age, abilities or artistic training. It can be used with individuals, families, groups, and communities. Studies have shown art therapy to be especially effective in helping clients with:
  • Mood disorders (e.g. anxiety, depression)
  • Communication and/or learning disorders (e.g. autism, ADHD)
  • Neurological and neurocognitive disorders (e.g. Parkinson’s, cerebral palsy, dementia, Alzheimer’s)
  • Trauma (e.g. PTSD, traumatic brain injury, abuse, collective trauma)
  • Physical health concerns (e.g. chronic illness, cancer, stroke, HIV)
  • Major life transitions
  • Navigating identity (e.g. sexual, cultural)
  • Personal, emotional, creative, and spiritual growth
How Does Art Therapy Work? Art therapy engages the mind, body, and spirit in ways that are distinct from and beyond the ability of verbal communication alone. Kinesthetic (movement-based), sensory, perceptual, and symbolic activities invite alternative means of receptive and expressive communication, which can circumvent the limitations of spoken language. Visual and symbolic expression also give voice to personal experience and can empower individual, communal, and societal transformation. Art therapists often use distinctive art-based assessments to evaluate emotional, psychological and developmental conditions. Therefore, art therapists must understand and the science of imagery and of color, texture, and media and how these affect a wide range of potential clients and personalities. Art therapists also must assess how art as a process is likely to affect the individual’s mental state and corresponding behavior. The specific methods and treatment objectives of art therapy differ depending on the setting and client population. How to Become a Professional Art Therapist Art therapists are required to have a master’s degree in art therapy for entry-level practice; doctoral programs in art therapy are also available. There are 35 accredited art therapy master’s programs located in 20 states, the District of Columbia, and Canada; Wayne State University is the only accredited program in Michigan. Art therapy program applicants must complete prerequisite coursework at the undergraduate level in psychology and studio art and must demonstrate proficiency and commitment in art making. Art therapy education is distinct from traditional counseling or psychology education in its emphasis on imagery and art-making. In addition to traditional training in counseling theories and methods, art therapy curriculum also requires courses in the psychology of creativity, symbolism and metaphor, processes and materials of art therapy, and art therapy assessment methods. Trained professional art therapists hold one of the following professional credentials as issued by the Art Therapy Credentials Board (ATCB):
  • Provisional Registered Art Therapist (ATR-Provisional) – Completed a master’s degree in art therapy and are under the supervision of a board certified art therapist.
  • Registered Art Therapist (ATR) – Completed a master’s degree in art therapy and the required supervised, post-graduate art therapy experience.
  • Board Certified Art Therapist (ATR-BC) – The highest-level art therapy credential, earned by Registered Art Therapists (ATRs) who have passed a national examination on art therapy.
  • Art Therapy Certified Supervisor (ATR-CS) – Experienced board-certified art therapists who have been trained in and provide clinical supervision.
How to Find an Art Therapist If you think that art therapy might be a good fit for you, contact Deepwater Counseling here to learn more or schedule an appointment. - by Angie Masinde, MA, LLPC, ATR-P