Sometimes words are not enough to express what we are feeling. Sometimes there are too many words. Art Therapy is a way of gaining a clearer understanding of ourselves by exploring our thoughts and feelings. In art therapy we express ourselves by making images or sculptures.
People make images or pieces from art materials, other materials and things that they gather. Art therapists are trained to be sensitive to the subtleties of making and looking at the piece. Together with the client, they explore and reflect on the process.
Art therapy is used in many settings with many different client groups. It provides an alternative means of expression for individuals who have difficulty finding words to express themselves, e.g. children, adolescents, elderly, people with learning difficulties, people experiencing depression or other kinds of psychiatric conditions, to name some of the areas of application. In situations where words are not enough, art therapy provides a non-threatening, non-verbal, indirect means of expression whereby the person can explore difficult feelings and issues in the safe non- judgmental environment provided by the therapist. The role of art is valuable, especially for anyone who cannot easily articulate many of their own feelings and who need the safety of the medium before being able to express themselves more fully and directly.
The therapeutic value of Art has long been acknowledged in history. Many cultures have been aware of the healing virtues of art activities, whether these were individual/ group or cultural expressions. However, it was not until the turn of the century that Art Therapy emerged and developed as a profession in the post-war era in Britain and the U.S.A.
Many of the pioneers of Art Therapy came from the field of art education and the psychoanalytic tradition and worked in sanatoriums, hospitals and schools starting in the late 1930's. They recorded their work and began to develop a language and literature of Art Therapy. Training courses were established that led to professional recognition by the NHS and DSS in the U.K. and similar status in the United States. Art therapists trained abroad began working in Ireland in the mid 1980's. Training in art therapy has been available in Ireland Since ?.
Case, C. & Dalley, T. (1992).The Handbook of Art Therapy. London: Routledge.
Case, C. & Dalley, T. (1990). Working with Children in Art Therapy. London: Routledge.
Liebmann, M. (1990).Art Therapy for groups. London: Routledge.
Silverstone, L. (1997). Art Therapy: The Person-centred Way. London: Jessica Kingsley
Art Therapy Associations worldwide
Northern Ireland Group for Art as Therapy http://nigat.org/
British Association of Art Therapists http://www.baat.org/
The American Art Therapy Association http://arttherapy.org/
The Australian and New Zealand Arts Therapy Association http://www.anzata.org/
The Canadian Art Therapy Association http://www.catainfo.ca/index.php
The Hong Kong Association of Art Therapists http://www.hk-hkaat.org/
Taiwan Art Therapy Association http://www.arttherapy.org.tw/about_en.php
The Israeli Association of Creative and Expressive Therapies http://www.yahat.org/
German Art Therapy Organisation http://www.dgkt.de/frameset.htm
Spanish Association of Art Therapists http://www.arteterapia.org.es/
La Fédération française des art-thérapeutes http://www.ffat-federation.org/
The Swedish National Association of Art Therapists http://www.bildterapi.se/in-english.html
Other Art Therapy Links:
The Virtual Arts Therapies Network http://www.derby.ac.uk/vart/
The Scottish Arts Therapies Network http://www.satf.org.uk/
Q: Do I have to be good at art to participate in art therapy?
No, you don't. You can make meaningful artwork in therapy without being a trained or skilled artist.
Q: Will the therapist be teaching me techniques?
Probably not. If you need technical advice, the therapist may help. Art therapy is different from art class. However, you may find developing your artistic ability to be therapeutic.
Q: Will the therapist interpret my work and be able to see things about me that I can't?
You alone create and 'own' your images or pieces. You guide the interpretation and understanding of the images, with the support of your therapist.
There are many theories about the meaning of colours and symbols, some culturally specific or contradictory. Art therapists are aware of many theories and hold them in mind. They help you find you know which is meaningful to you. They do not impose meaning on your work.
Q: What if I'm not able to paint a picture?
That's OK. Art therapy is more about finding ways to express your feelings and ideas with art materials. Scribbles and marks are fine, as is touching or exploring materials. You might happen to make a finished art work, but you won't be expected to.
Q: Will I need to bring paints or brushes etc?
You won't be expected to as the therapist will have lots of materials available for you to use. However, you may find that you want to bring things to use, perhaps things you find between sessions, such as leaves, tickets or copies of photos.
Q: Will I get dirty?
You might feel freer if you wear something you don't mind getting marked. Or you may choose to bring an old shirt in your bag. Your therapist may have an apron, especially if (s)he works with children.
Q: Can I take my work with me?
Generally the therapist holds the art work, which is kept in an individual folder in a safe place. At the end of therapy it is up to you whether you wish to take your work or not.
Q: Will I be working in a group?
Art therapy can be individual, or in a group. It depends on where you go for art therapy.