In A Better You

What Is Art Therapy: Real Answers!

what is art therapy

What is art therapy? A division of the mental health profession, art therapy encompasses a variety of methods which are used to facilitate physical and mental healing from many different conditions. Through art therapy outlets, the patient is encouraged to explore their feelings, which helps establish self-confidence within the patient.

Art therapy is also used to control behavior-related conditions and help with drug and alcohol dependence issues. Art therapy is designed to reduce anxiety in patients and help to develop social skills. By tapping into the body’s natural creative energies, art therapy facilitates natural healing and emotional balance from a variety of issues.

Where Art Therapy Is Practiced

Art therapy has a broad scope of applications. It is a medically recognized, widely-practiced form of healing methods. Art therapy is practiced in many different arenas. It is used in hospitals, rehabilitation centers, mental health facilities, crisis centers and wellness centers. It is utilized in both clinical and private medical practices. Art therapy is even used in places like schools and senior communities.

Who It Can Help

Art therapy is a medically-researched and recognized form of treatment that can be used to help many different types of patients. It is an appropriate treatment for those who may be experiencing social, psychological or developmental impairments. It is also effective for medical and educational issues.

People who may benefit the most from art therapy include those who have undergone a great deal of trauma, due to situations like abuse, combat and natural disasters to name a few situations. People who have physical conditions like cancer and traumatic brain injury can also be helped through art therapy. Those who have mental/behavioral disorders such as autism, dementia and depression may also benefit greatly through the use of art therapy methods.

There is one particular condition in which art therapy is being used increasingly. People with eating disorders have had great success by working with art therapy methods. Art, pictures and movement become the bridge for which unexpressed feelings and emotions are transformed. It is especially beneficial as it is a non-verbal way of communicating one’s innermost feelings.

At-risk adolescents also have much to gain by trying art therapy. Young people are allowed to express themselves freely and creatively, without having to put their feelings into words. Experts explain that it is easier for them to talk through their drawings or paintings. Children with learning disabilites may also be helped through art therapy. Children with speech and language disorders, behavioral disorders and other emotional troubles.

Those suffering with depression are another group which may benefit greatly from art therapy. For example, one researcher decided to see the effects of art therapy on prison inmates. According to a 2009 study conducted by David Gussak, art therapy was shown to improve the emotional state of severely-depressed prison inmates.

He explains that prisoners commonly lose what is known as their “locus of control.” Essentially they know they have no control over their situation and feel powerless against it. Through art therapy, these prison inmates gain a sense of satisfaction, while cultivating an internal sense of control within them.

Art therapy can be an enjoyable and rewarding experience for the patient as they are given an outlet to express themselves creatively. When the artwork is completed, the patient gains a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. This may raise their self-esteem as a result. Art therapy can help patients gain a sense of personal insight into their condition and its corresponding characteristics. It can help people resolve conflicts, improve their social skills and relieve the negative effects of stress, no matter the cause.

Art Therapy Methods

Art therapy may be administered in either an individual or a group setting, depending on what is best for the patient. The ultimate goal of art therapy is to enhance the physical, mental and emotional well-being of the patient. No matter what type of creative activity the patient is participating in, the art therapist guides the patient to express their own inner thoughts, feelings, perception and imagination. The art therapist then takes the patients artwork and uses it to evaluate the current emotional, cognitive and developmental states of the patient.

There are many different forms of art therapy which may be used. Three examples of commonly-used art therapy methods include drawing, painting and sculpture-making. Photography and digital art may also be used. Patients can decide between many different types of art therapy to see which one better fits their personality. Feelings, perception and imagination all come into play when working with art therapy. The purpose of the art therapist is there to help the patient decide which method is right for them.

Music Therapy

What is art therapy? Music therapy is a form of art therapy. In music therapy, the therapist uses specific music or musical activities to help the patient. According to the American Music Therapy Association, when conducted in a formal setting, music therapy is the only form of healing that can prove its effectiveness through scientific research. Music therapy is designed to emotionally stimulate the client, while supporting them creatively.

Music therapy is used to help children with autism to improve their ability to communicate. It is used to help people with Parkinson’s disease to improve motor function, and also help decrease symptoms of dementia. Music therapy can help premature infants sleep better and gain weight. It can help reduce pain in hospital patients, suffering from a variety of illnesses. Music therapy even has the capability to help a patient with a bullet wound to the brain to regain the use of their speaking abilities.

In regards to this form of art therapy, one should note that music therapy must be administered under the direction of a certified professional. Although listening to music is known to be beneficial for many reasons, listening to random music does not mean the patient will experience any benefits at all from it.

For example, the American Music Therapy Association gives the following guidelines to help the public know what should and should not be classified as music therapy. They offer a list of situations which should not be classified as music therapy. The following are only a few of their examples.

  • An Alzheimer’s patient listening to their favorite songs on an iPod
  • Having celebrities perform at hospitals and schools
  • A choir singing on the pediatric floor of a hospital
  • A high school student playing their guitar in a nursing home

As you can see, there is a lot of room for confusion as to what could be helpful and what would not be. That is why it is best to access this form of art therapy by consulting a certified music therapy professional. Credentialed music therapists require an education in psychology, medicine and music. Music therapists must have a bachelor’s degree or higher in music therapy from an AMTA-approved university with a minimum of 1,200 hours of clinical training.

Dance Therapy

What is art therapy? Dance therapy is another form of art therapy. Dance therapy is built upon the idea that the body, mind and spirit are interconnected. Emotional, physical and social issues can be improved through dance therapy. Appropriate for people of all ages, races and ethnic backgrounds, dance therapy can help patients express their feelings through various types of physical movement. Established in 1966, the American Dance Therapy Association regulates the certification of dance therapy instructors by upholding strict educational requirements.

This form of art therapy is commonly practiced in mental health and rehabilitation facilities. Dance therapy is used in nursing homes, day care centers, and promotional health programs and private practices. It can help people deal with a variety of developmental, medical, social and psychological issues. Through the art of movement and dance, the patient is able to access internal healing energy that can help with mental or physical illnesses.

About The American Art Therapy Association

The American Art Therapy Association is the primary resource for all types of information on art therapy. They are the main resource that professional art therapists use to enhance their private practices. Their publication, the Journal of the American Art Therapy Association works to present varying types of information on the different methods of art therapy to the public and therapists alike.

To learn more, you can view a listing of articles published in their journal by visiting the AATA website at To locate a certified art therapist near you, can call The American Art Therapy Association at (888) 290-0878 or email them at [email protected]

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