Art therapy is a way of expressing and exploring feelings and thoughts about aspects of your self and your life through art-making. Art therapy clients include children, adolescents and adults facing and coping with a wide variety of difficult emotional experiences and life issues, including serious illness, loss and grief, addictions, depression, anxiety, anger, stress, confusion, relationship problems, separation, and the impacts of sexual, physical and other traumas. Some people simply enter art therapy because they are interested in exploring and giving space to their creative self. In art therapy, art is made to express ourselves and to communicate feelings, not to create a beautiful image to hang on a wall. There is no evaluation or judgement about artistic merit. You don’t need any particular ability, training or experience with art materials in order to be an art therapy client or benefit from this form of therapy. All you really need is the desire to express yourself and the willingness to explore.
What does an Art Therapy session look like?
When you arrive for an art therapy appointment, a table will be spread with a variety of simple art materials. These include tempera paints (water-based, like “poster paints”), pastels, chalks, coloured pencils, felt pens, and clay. There will also be materials for making collage. You are free to choose which materials or combinations of materials you use. While I may make suggestions from time to time, you are free to create whatever you wish. There are no rules about what you make or how many pieces you make in a session. Some clients make 1 image, and I have seen as many as 6 created in a 1-hour appointment! I find the number of pieces created by a client can vary from week to week too. The act of creation itself, the externalizing of thoughts and feelings into a concrete and symbolic form, and the exploration of the images and meanings which emerge are all considered therapeutic aspects of the art therapy process.
In the last portion of the appointment some time is usually taken to verbally explore the image(s) you have created. I may ask you to describe your image(s) and your experiences making them, and help you to further explore them and their meanings by asking you questions. It is important for you to know that I do not "read" your artwork in an interpretive way or arrive at specific understandings about you simply by seeing the image(s) you create. Rather, I work from the belief that my clients are the experts on their images, feelings and life experiences, and that the art-maker should always have the final word on the meanings that emerge from an image. I view the art therapy process as an opportunity for discovery for both therapist and client.
Limitations and Contraindications
When you come for your first appointment, one of the subjects we may explore is whether or not art therapy is an appropriate approach in your treatment. Because the experience of creating imagery can bring forward painful material in a powerful way, it is important to ground ourselves in a solid therapeutic alliance before beginning an art therapy process. This is especially true with particularly vulnerable clients such as those with unprocessed trauma histories.
While art therapy process can be an effective approach to a number of therapeutic issues, it does not appeal to all clients. As my client, you are absolutely free to choose a "talk therapy" approach in your therapy.