What is Art Therapy?

Understanding Art Therapy

Art Therapy is one of the various creative therapeutic approaches that can be used to provide emotional support.

Some other creative therapeutic approaches:

  • Art Therapy
  • Dance Movement Therapy
  • Drama therapy
  • Music Therapy
  • Play Therapy - for children

Art therapy is a form of psychotherapy that uses art as a form of communication, therefore it is not dependent on spoken language and it can be helpful to anyone who may find it difficult or not easy to express thoughts and feeling verbally.

In art therapy the individual uses art (paint, clay, collages, photography and other materials and techniques) and in the case of children play to explore and express their feelings.

There is not expectation or demand on the person (adult, or young person)of being good at art or having previous experience in order to benefit from art therapy

Expression trough art and play provides an alternative but important opportunity to understand the indiviual's emotional life and his or her ways of relating to other people.

What is the training for art therapist in the United Kingdom where Bea trained?

The Art Therapy training courses in the United Kingdom are at Masters level and are completed over two years full time or three years part time

Applicants are usually graduates in Art and Design or are qualified art teachersor have a first degree in a relevant discipline like sociology or psychology.

Applicants are also expected to have working experience in these fields.

The training is theoretical, practical and experiential and includes:

  • 120 days clinical placement over the duration of the course
  • Lectures, discussions and seminars in psychological development, counselling and psychodynamic theory
  • Academic assessment by essays, portfolio presentations and a final thesis
  • Personal therapy is compulsory during the whole of the training

What is learnt during the training as an art therapist?

  • The difference between art therapy and art activities
  • Become more sensitive to the way adult and young person may communicate without wor
  • Understanding a young person-centred approach:
    • Importance of holding back
    • Not "rescuing" the adult or the young person
    • Non-judgemental
    • Be at their level
  • Understanding directive and non-directive approaches
  • Ideas for activities
  • Understanding when referral to therapy may be appropriate

Similarities and differences between "art therapy" and "art activities"

"Art therapy" and "arts activities" there may be cause confusion on what they are and how they differ from each other.

What they have in common is that the individual works towards the creation of artwork and therefore creativity is involved.

However they are different in the skills required by the practitioner and in their overall philosophical assumptions and orientations

Art activities

Art activities have the primary goal of creating a finished artwork within a fun and learning environment.

The facilitator who is trained or experienced in art making may influence the creation of the artwork or give advice

The individual may be expected to make use of a set of skills that can be taught, practised, evaluated orjudged aesthetically.

The artwork produced may be exhibited or assessed

Art therapy

Art therapy?s primary goal is the intentional use of the arts for psychological change as a form of therapy within a therapeutic context,

The artwork produced in art therapy it is not intended as a product in itself.

Art therapy?s primary goal is the intentional use of the arts forpsychological change as a form of therapywithin a therapeutic context

The artwork produced in art therapy it is not intended as a product in itself

Drawing an "ugly" picture or destroying a picture is in art therapy an important and valuable expression.

Therefore the artwork does not have to be aesthetically pleasing or finished to be valuable.

In art therapy the therapist acts as a facilitator a guide and a witness to help the young person to understand feelings and needs.

Art in this context is the means to self-discovery and the link between the young person and the therapist.

The art materials chosen and the way feelings are expressed are important aspects of the creative process.

Artwork in art therapy provides the focus of the communication and acts as a vehicle for understanding growth and change in the young person.

There is an interaction between the young person and the therapist in which they work together to understand the art process and product of the session.

The creative process

The reason why I chose to train and work as an art therapist is that I highly value the creative process.

I personally believe that creativity is something that everyone has within themselves yet the process and results are different for different people.

Anyone can potentially embark on a creative process and a creative process does not have to result in an aesthetic or finished product.

One can?t "teach" creativity in the sense of ?teaching? maths, science or humanities classes, but one can assist and guide people to get in touch with their inherent creativity.

As an art therapist I have faith in the arts as having an important healing role to play within therapy.

However for art making to be a form of therapy it needs to be contextually located within a witnessed and supportive environment.

Therapeutic Alliance

A special relationship foms between The terapist and the young person.

Within this ?therapeutic alliance? The young person feels free to express themselves.

Because the therapist:

  • accepts whatever is expressed, without criticism
  • witness artwork (or action/words)
  • Reflects it back to the young perso in a way that may help them.

Holding Environment (a safe one)

The therapy room and the therapist Provide an holding environment; an environment which is safe, where the young person is free to express themselves.

Holding was defined by Winnicott:

  • It refers to a mother physically holding a baby, and also to creating a safe and supportive environment
  • A mother that is ?good enough? and she provides enough
  • Support but not too much
  • So the child is safe to explore, And gradually learns its limitations


  • Art therapy involves assessment as well as treatment
  • It focuses on the creative process and the artwork as a means to discover the self

Extra info:

An art therapist is registered with a professional association;the British Association of Art Therapists (BAAT) www.baat.org

The art therapist is compelled to practice within specific codes of ethics and is regulated by the Health Professional Council (HPC) www.hpc-uk.org



Understanding Art Therapy
link open in a new window "Understanding Art Therapy" as one of the various creative therapeutic approaches to provide emotional support to children. It is a powerpoint presentation created to explain the use of art therapy with children.


Seeing within: art therapy in theory and practice in Scotland
link open in a new window "Seeing within: art therapy in theory and practice in Scotland" Presentation viewable as a PDF document.


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