What is Art Therapy?

“Art can be said to be – and can be used as – the externalized map of our interior self.” Peter London

When most people think of art they think of an art museum, talented artists, paintings they bought at Kohl’s hanging on their walls in the home, or children scribbling. Guess what? You are an artist! I believe that every human has the inherent ability to create, produce, and express themselves through art.
When you think about therapy do you think of Freuds couch? Do you think about conversation, sitting talking about “problems?” Well, I don’t. I don’t because I not only provide therapy as a profession, but I see the life changing effects it has on individuals, session by session. I see people release, explore, and understand emotions, experiences, traumas, and joy in a way they never had. I think about therapy as a time an individual has to sit, reflect and gain a trusting relationship with their therapist. To open up about all the things they felt they never could.
Now how do you combine the inherit ability humans have to create with the transformative powers of therapy? Answer: Art therapy.
According to the American Art Therapy Association “Art therapy is an integrative mental health and human services profession that enriches the lives of individuals, families, and communities through active art-making, creative process, applied psychological theory, and human experience within a psychotherapeutic relationship. Art therapy, facilitated by a professional art therapist, effectively supports personal and relational treatment goals, as well as community concerns. Art therapy is used to improve cognitive and sensor motor functions, foster self-esteem and self-awareness, cultivate emotional resilience, promote insight, enhance social skills, reduce and resolve conflicts and distress, and advance societal and ecological change.” “About Art Therapy.” American Art Therapy Association, arttherapy.org/about-art-therapy/.
That was a very lengthy definition. To personally define it, I believe it is the creative ability to express yourself in a therapeutic space. Art therapy is not about technique or critique. It is about describing something in another way other than the verbal spoken word. For example, a person in session might say they were angry, spoken word being “angry.” Now think of being able to create an image of your anger, what it looks like, the colors it takes on, the shapes, lines, texture. Art can awaken many more ideas and freedom to express an emotion than a simple word like “angry” can. Here is an image I created when feeling angry. Utilizing oil pastilles and scrapping them as hard as I could into the paper, I was releasing the feelings of frustration and taking that feeling I held within me and putting it outside of myself, releasing it.

Now, in a therapy session, not only would I be able to verbally discuss and process my anger, but a trained art therapist would also allow me the space to create an image of my anger, as well as process the art I created around this emotion.
I hope you can walk away from this short article and have a better understanding about art therapy. I will continue to write more about this in weeks to come.

Thank you and I hope this inspires you to create. Create an image of your day, how you feel, an emotion you have been feeling. I encourage you to take what is going on within you and release it outward.

Create, educate, inspire.
Katrina Kurtz, MA., LCPC, ATR

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