Art Therapy in Session
Expressive therapy modalities have continuously become more integrated within the therapeutic process, alongside more traditional talk therapy approaches, in an effort to provide clients with opportunity for holistic care. Expressive therapies can encompass art, music and dance to create a “bottom up” approach for clients, where there is an emphasis on processing through sensory input and information. For the purpose of this post, I will be focusing specifically on Art Therapy as an expressive modality, along with benefits and characteristics of incorporating art making into the therapy room.
Art Therapy historically has been defined as “an interdisciplinary mix of visual arts and psychology” (Gussak & Rosal, 2016). Within the field of Art Therapy as a whole, there have been two main theorists who emphasize the differences of utilizing Art Psychotherapy and Art as Therapy (Gussak & Rosal, 2016). Extensive knowledge and training of the two spectrums of Art Therapy, allow therapists an opportunity to utilize the full healing power of the art process in the therapeutic space.
So, what is the difference between Art Psychotherapy and Art as Therapy? Some early Art therapists described the emphasis of Art as Therapy, where the healing power of the creative process is understood as the primary contribution (Gussak & Rosal, 2016). Through Art as Therapy processes such as sublimation or creating moments of productivity with negative thoughts or urges, this can help support a client’s therapeutic development by giving feeling to form instead of only talking about an emotion (Kramer, 2000; Franklin). On the other hand, other therapists more formally utilized Art Psychotherapy, where the focus is on the symbolic communication of the art making in session (Gussak & Rosal, 2016). Art Psychotherapy is further concerned with uncovering unconscious material, processing and interpreting visual imagery with a client in session (Franklin). Each method of utilizing art making in the therapeutic space has displayed its support of a client’s healing and creative benefits in session.
Art Therapy has the unique opportunity to engage in session through non-verbal communication and integrate sensory processing when verbiage might not be as supportive. How do I integrate Art Therapy in session as an Art therapist? For my clients, art making in session can look a number of ways. For a more Art Psychotherapy focus, this can look like a simple check in such as “How would you represent your current emotions, through a 5-minute sketch using only line, shape and color” and processing symbolism within each element of the piece. Another example could look like asking a client in session, “If you could visually represent safety in your life, what would that look like?” Then again, processing and interpreting symbolism in session and creating connections through the unconscious development. With an Art as Therapy focus, this could look like offering a client who is coming in experiencing hyperarousal, an opportunity for grounding, mindfulness and self-regulation through art making.
As shown, Art Therapy can encompass a wide range of what this may look like within the therapeutic space and in session with a client. This range is also only briefly encompassed by the examples given above and is entirely dependent on a client’s needs, goals and what is brought into session each time. Art in therapy can support moments of resilience, catharsis, awareness and connection and so much more, through the opportunity for creative expression.
Franklin, Michael. “Art as Therapy- Art Psychotherapy.” History and Theory of Art Therapy, Naropa University, Boulder, CO, 2016.
Gussak, D. E., & Rosal, M. L. (2016). The Wiley handbook of art therapy. (D. E. Gussak & M. L. Rosal, Eds.). Wiley-Blackwell. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=psyh&AN=2016-25095-000&site=ehost-live
Kramer, E. (2000). Art as Therapy: Collected Papers. L. A. Gerity. Phildelphia, PA: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.