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What is art therapy? An in-depth review

What is art therapy

What is art therapy?

What is art therapy and how can it be of benefit to you?

As you probably know, I am a firm believer of art therapy. Art is the only form of meditation that I can do. Drawing or painting dissolves the world around me into a colorful abyss. It’s peaceful and harmonious. It’s a world where there is no pain or worry. That is the reason I want to bring art therapy to you. However, the question arises, what is art therapy exactly?


The evolution of art therapy

For the longest period of time, art has been used as a way to express oneself. It has been used in group interactions, communication, conflict resolution as well as diagnosis throughout the history of man. For over thousands of years, religions and cultures all around the world have used charms and carved titles, sacred symbols and paintings for the purpose of healing. However, art therapy came into being as a publicly accepted therapeutic approach during the mid 20th century. As a profession, art therapy has emerged in both United States as well as Europe.

The British artist, Adrian Hill discovered the benefits of drawing and painting when he was recovering from a tuberculosis infection. He was the one who coined the term “art therapy” in the year 1942. During the 1940s, many writers pertaining to the field of mental health started to describe their treatment of people as art therapy. Since during that time specific courses or training programs pertaining to art therapy were not available, these writers most often were supervised by psychologists, psychiatrists or other professionals belonging to the mental health care field.



The major contributors to art therapy

Margaret Naumburg is referred to as the “mother of art therapy”. She established the Walden school in New York in 1915. She was the primary founder of the art therapy movement in America. As per Naumburg, kids who could express themselves creatively and persecute the subjects which were of interest to them would have a healthier development. Naumburg viewed the creative process as a manner which was similar to verbal expression. According to her, if the symbolic expression of the person’s mental state was combined with verbal and cognitive aspects of experience, it could lead to healing.

Art therapy has been observed to help people suffering from different kinds of diseases and belonging to different age brackets.

People facing the following issues have definitely benefited from art therapy:

Since art therapy allows the person to express his feelings by using creativity instead of speech, it can be very helpful to those people who are unable to express their feelings or emotions up their past experiences. It has been reported that individuals who have difficulty in remembering or talking about painful experiences of their life may find art therapy beneficial.

Studies have also suggested that art therapy can benefit individuals who have been diagnosed with schizophrenia although the data has not been completely verified yet.

The following groups of people have been observed to benefit from art therapy

People who suffer from mental health issues: Art therapy has been observed to benefit people who suffer from Schizophrenia or related condition.

Those who suffer from learning disabilities: People suffering from learning disabilities find it very hard to express themselves. Art can act as a medium of communication for such people.

Dementia patients: Sculpting gas been observed to help patients suffering from dementia. It has also shown to increase the Clare days for such patients.

Patients falling under autism spectrum: Art therapy can not only calm such patients down, it can also help them communicate their feelings in a better manner.

Extreme introverts: People who are extreme introverts find it very difficult to express themselves. Art can be a medium for such people to show their emotions without saying a lot of verbal communication.

Those who are suffering from terminal or chronic illness: People suffering from chronic or terminal illness tend to feel trapped in themselves and are unable to talk about what’s bothering them. Since art is an unconventional mode of communication it helps such people deal with their inner feelings and also helps to manage the pain.

Those in the justice system: prisoners are asked to indulge in art therapy to understand and decipher their feelings in a healthy manner.

There are different art techniques which are used as part of the art therapy like

  • Doodling
  • Finger painting
  • Painting
  • Scribbling
  • Sculpting
  • Making pottery
  • Making collages
  • Using molding clay
  • Drawing
  • Making cards
  • Using textiles

Art therapy can help introverts or those people who find it difficult to express their emotions or past experiences verbally. Such people can express what they are really feeling by the virtue of art. Art is not only about drawing beautiful sceneries or people. Art is about expressing ones inner thoughts and feelings in the form of a painting, sculpture etc.

Art is about expressing oneself. A person’s true nature, psychological status as well as thoughts can be understood by the art made by that person. Since so many different techniques are available under art therapy, one can choose whichever therapeutic technique suits them best or is most preferable to them.


Now that you know what is at therapy, let’s look at the different misconceptions which people are normally plagued with when it comes to art therapy:

Art therapy is just meant for kids:

This could not be farther from the truth. Art is for all. There is no age limit to art. art therapy can be used to work with different types of physical, social, mental and behavioral issues. Art therapy can be used for but it’s not linked to dealing with loss, grief, self esteem, body negativity, mental illnesses, learning disabilities, past abuse, PTSD, or any other kind of adjustment problem.

People engaging in art therapy do art at each and every session

Art therapy can involve other therapeutic methods along with art in the treatment process. Currently, therapeutic strategies like dialectical behavioral therapy, eye movement desensitization and processing, cognitive behavioral therapy and other therapeutic options are used along with art therapy to treat the patients. Therefore, it is not mandatory for you or the therapist to engage in art in every session.

This is mainly craft work

Art therapy is not craft. Every medium and idea chosen for any session has a specific aim and meaning behind it. You may think you are creating an art for no reason or without any direction, but their is always a meaning behind it which your therapist can decipher.

I am not an artist. Art is for artists

You are not required to have any knowledge of art to indulge in art therapy. Art therapy is not conducted in art school. you can even make stick figures and it will be okay with your therapist. The primary focus in art therapy is not what you made, it is the process of making art.

Art therapists undergo training to provide full support to you throughout the process of making art. Your therapist will guide you in exploring your inner thoughts and emotions while you make or create an artwork. He or she will walk you through the times which you find difficult and help you explore deeper and understand them. He or she won’t be judging your artistic skills or lack thereof.


Art therapy is my drug of choice. It is a mindful experience for me. It not only helps me deal with the pain, it distracts my mind to the point that sometimes, I don’t even realize my pain. I started art therapy back in 2018 after I suffered from a car crash. It has helped me overcome severe PTSD. Which is your treatment of choice? Have you or any of your loved one ever tried art therapy? How has your experience been with the same? Let me know in the comment section below. In case you have any queries, feel free to reach out to me on any of any of my social media channels or you can leave your queries in the comment section. I will be more than happy to help you out.

See you in my next post


Frequently asked questions:

What is art therapy?
Art therapy is a tour of therapeutic technique which focuses on using creative expression to help in healing and aiding a person’s mental well being.
Is art therapist a psychologist?
An art therapist falls in the category of mental health professional. Art therapy needs a background in psychology and behavioral disorders, human development, therapeutic technique and counselling ability. Art therapy can be called as a specialized breach of psychotherapy.
Who invented art therapy?
Art therapy was coined by Adrian Hill in the year 1942. He discovered that his recovery from tuberculosis was better when he indulged in painting and drawing. 
How is art therapy an effective technique?
Art therapy has the ability to improve a person’s emotional resilience, self confidence, self awareness, enhance their social skills, resolve distress, conflicts and finally help a person understand their inner feelings  and emotions.
How can art therapy help anxiety?
Art therapy provides understanding of a person’s self expression. This allows the person to gain insight into the emotion or panic which is setting off the anxiety attack in the first place. Since these people find it hard to discuss the cause, is used as a communication medium. 

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