Art Therapy

Art Therapy

This Article Is Part of A Series For Expressive Therapy

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Art therapy protocol uses a variety of methods and media to elicit self expression in clients. Art therapists help clients explore a constructive creative process in a variety of artistic media that seeks to aid in self actualization and realization (AATA). The increased practice of constructive self expression is believed to aid in improving the physical, emotional, and mental well being of the individual. The expressive outlet allows an opening of expression and communication and, through this, one can more effectively resolve other conflicts in life. This positive conflict resolution improves the quality of life in the individuals and those around them. This is a widely utilized form of therapy and is used in hospitals, rehabilitation facilities, wellness centers, senior centers, and psychiatric institutions.

Goals of Art Therapy

Art therapy is based on the belief that the creative process helps people to resolve conflicts and problems, develop interpersonal;skills, manage behavior, reduce stress, increase self-esteem and self-awareness, and achieve insight (AATA). The act of reflection, patience;and discipline that must occur during the act of self expression, serves as a model for future social emotional control and insight. This model can act as a template for resolution and expression in other facets of life. The tenets that art therapy operates under include humanism, creativity, personal growth, and methods of reconciling personal conflicts.

When is Art Therapy Used?

Art therapy has a unique therapeutic benefit because there is such a wide range of methods by which one can express oneself; there are activities for a wide range of developmental, language, and motor capabilities. It has proven effective with patients who suffer from mental illnesses, trauma, and chronic or terminal illnesses. Patients with terminal illness have been reported to find improvements in mood, outlook, and overall life perception (Wood, 2011). Even those who are simply facing challenges in life can benefit from this type of creative expression. It has been applied to rehabilitation in criminal institutions and provided incarcerated individuals the opportunity to create and express themselves.

Although art therapy is a relatively new form of therapy, data suggests that providing outlets for creativity during times of great stress or during drastic life changes can improve the overall quality of life.The art creates a platform with which clients can create and express themselves in a new and constructive way. In patients facing long term life changes, such as terminal illness or incarceration, creating something allows an escape from the current situation that may permeate much of the rest of their daily lives. In pediatric trauma patients, medical staff noted that patients that had a creative artistic method of expression provided lower rates of blood pressure, better sleep patterns, and reduction of symptoms accompanying post traumatic stress disorder (Chapman, 2001).

How does Art Therapy Work?

Certified art therapists, like traditional psychotherapists, begin by having new clients perform a battery of tests to determine proficiency in a number of areas including fine and gross motor skills, development, and expression. The program of therapy is then tailored to fit the individual needs of the client and any physical limitations are factored into the treatment plan and development of goals. The tools and media chosen must be the most appropriate for the mental needs and physical development of the individual. Materials and media are gathered and the client is taught the necessary skills and techniques required to realize their artistic vision.

Honing a craft in any media requires cultivating the patience required to develop the desired skills forethought in planning out the system, materials, and methods of design, and the emotional development to create a work of art. Developing these characteristics in a non-social and completely creative outlet lets patients develop the foundation for applying these traits in a social setting as well. This form of therapy also allows patients to express themselves in a socially relevant but non-verbal way. The result piece of art gives the artist a talking point to address the very issues or emotions that inspired the work.


Art therapy is seriously lacking in scientific evidence to prove its efficacy. There is little to no evidence that art therapy systems actually have any of the healing powers effect that they claim. The desired outcome is so general the parameters for measurement is almost impossible to determine. The definition can apply, generally, to most areas of life and improvement can be attributed to other variables. The practice has been in motion for fifty years and still the scientific evidence is lacking. The practice is supported primarily by anecdotal evidence and correlational studies.


American Art Therapy Association, AATA About us. Retrieved August 20,

Chapman, L. (2001). The effectiveness of art therapy interventions in reducing PTSD symptoms in pediatric trauma patients: Art Therapy; Journal of American Art Therapy Association, 18(2).

Wood, M. J., Molassiotis, A., Payne, S. (2011) What research evidence is there for the use of art therapy in management of symptoms in adults with cancer? A systematic review.Psycho-Oncology,20(2), 135-145.

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