Watercolour painting of pink and red flowers

What Is Art Therapy?

Firstly…Why Therapy?

Almost all types of therapy are useful if they are conducted with the right person and in an ethical manner (meaning the therapist is qualified, maintains confidentiality and is genuinely interested in helping you).

Therapy allows for a safe space in which we can discuss ourselves, our insights, our private thoughts, and our deepest desires. A good therapist can help us learn how to best help ourselves. Therapy is an amazing experience in itself,or should be, so why bring art into the mixture?

What is Art Therapy?

Art can be worked with in therapy in at least two different ways: Art Therapy and art used with therapy.

Art therapy is very different from art used with therapy. Art used with therapy is therapy that uses art as a tool. This type of therapy is often practiced by counsellors without additional art therapy training. This can be helpful for clients; however, it should not be thought of as Art Therapy. Art used with therapy usually involves clients using art and artistic tools for specific exercises. For instance, I believe that the art exercise that involves a client drawing a pie-chart of their emotional needs is art being used with therapy. In the same sense, a client drawing a zentangle during session to help feel calm who does not explore the  possible meanings behind the art is, I would argue, using the art as a tool.

An art therapist, a person who is trained in art therapy, is always mindful of the fact thatimg_1129 the client and the therapist work with art to gain insight rather than using art. I personally believe that the process of working with art can facilitate amazing insight, help heal very old emotional wounds, and often leads to profound insight during sessions. During a session an art therapist may have the client work on a specific art exercise, or may have the client simply create whatever comes to mind. Sometimes the session involves talking about different art the client has experienced. One of the most  important elements of Art Therapy comes from exploring the connection created through the art. What does the art tell us about our self? How does the art represent our inner thoughts and emotions? Why do we feel so connected with certain art pieces?

Why is Art Therapy Amazing?

Art is everywhere, and is thus relatable for everyone. Art crosses cultural barriers, language barriers, and gender barriers.   Working with art during a therapy session allows for the client to express the inexpressible.  Have you ever tried to explain how you feel and been unable to do so? Art allows you to express that feeling without words.

For example, the image below was used to express the feeling of hope-or something akin to hope. The feeling itself couldn’t be verbally explained, however this is how I felt at the time.

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Art has an uncanny way of unblocking creative expression and creative problem solving abilities, which is incredibly useful for those working with depression and/or anxiety.  A bit of art everyday keeps us moving creatively. I often ask my clients to try to create one thing every day between sessions. For the clients that adhere to this homework there are usually profound shifts in the way they view the world, how they solve problems at work and at home, and often a shift in how vivid their dreams become. For the clients who work with me long-term, the sketch book becomes a visual diary of our sessions and the work they have done. It is extremely gratifying to return to an image from a difficult time and thank it for its help. It is also amazing to witness the power these images have for both the client and the therapist that has the privilege of working with them.

Are you interested in Art Therapy? Do you have questions about Art Therapy?
Feel free to send us an email or come in for a free consult. We are always more than happy to talk about the amazing powers of art!

Thank you for existing!


New Imagecammi

(Cammi is an Art Therapist and Canadian Certified Counsellor who has a private practice in Vancouver, BC and also works with clients online.)

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