Art Therapy – Why use art therapy as part of a treatment plan?

Art therapy can help provide relief from a range of issues including addiction, grief and bereavement, anxiety, depression and trauma. It can also help people with learning disabilities and ASD.

Attachment research points to pre-verbal experiences as the source of many mental health issues which develop later in life. Art offers a gentle and indirect way of exploring these early experiences in a safe, and confidential setting, with an art therapist who is trained to help patients to digest and make sense of their experience.

Talking therapies and art therapy

It can be difficult for some people to describe with words how they feel at the best of times. Working with non-verbal media can therefore provide a means of expression in less intimidating ways. Once an image has been created, patients can then work with the therapist who can help them to make meaning of their experience. This process creates important connections between the left and right hemispheres of the brain and is an important aspect of treating anxiety and attachment related trauma.

Are skills in drawing/ painting necessary?

Absolutely not: technical skills in the arts are not at all important. People who have attended art therapy often realise that they have been brought up and schooled to think in the opposite way. Not having to worry about what something looks like and being able to play with the art materials without judgement is healing in itself.

Can it help with developing a more creative attitude to life?

Absolutely. Many people who come in to therapy have lost their connection with an innate capacity to play and hence the creative parts of themselves. The inner creativity of the child gets lost along the way; in many cases, from well intentioned, yet misguided adults. As Picasso famously put it: ‘Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once s/he grows up.’ Art therapy helps people to rediscover the inner child again, where the world of the imagination resides. By slowly reconnecting with the imaginative world, patients sometimes find that this then becomes mirrored in their adult lives too as new options start to make themselves available. This can be remarkable to witness.

How is it different to making art without a therapist?

Art is an a priori therapeutic tool and for some people making art is already enough for its capacity to regulate anxiety and ease the stresses of daily life. Yet there is also something important not only about the making of art, but also speaking to someone who is trained to help make sense of it in relation to one’s unique life experience.

‘Art therapist’ is a state protected title and art therapists are required to have in-depth and rigorous Masters’ level training including many years personal therapy. They also have regular clinical supervision and are required to work in the NHS as part of their training. They must be registered with the HCPC to use the title and whose primary remit is to protect the public.

To find out more about art therapy, check out the links below:

The British Association of Art Therapists

The Institute for Art and Therapy in Education

Alex Monk is an HCPC registered integrative arts psychotherapist based in London. Appointments can be made with him via his website 

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