As an Art Therapist I am often met with the comment about how therapeutic art-making can be…and it is so true! It is also not the same as Art Therapy.
Adult coloring books, painting, ceramics, collage, art journaling, cross-stitch…you name it…they are great for keeping your hands busy, coping with stress, managing anxiety, distracting yourself, as well as expressing emotion and creativity. Art is inherently therapeutic, but it is not Art Therapy as it does not necessarily result in behavioral changes, attitudinal shifts, and/or healing of cognitive distortions that often create the undesirable states of anxiety, anger, depression, shame, guilt, etc. These blocks can, however, be explored through art and illuminated since the art acts as an incredible container and mirror that both hold and reflect internal states serving as a physical record of the process and experience.
Like any therapy, the relationship between client and therapist is the most important factor in allowing growth and healing to occur. As relational creatures, we need connection. Much of anxiety and depression are the result of ruptures in early relationships from our past where our most basic need to be seen and accepted for who we truly are go unmet.
Regardless of age all humans need to be experienced as significant. Inevitably, when this does not happen or caregivers and other important figures miss the mark, valuable defense mechanisms and coping strategies are created to manage the pain and shame of not being understood or validated. At your most vulnerable you may simply wish to be comforted, but this does not always happen. Unable to regulate such experiences on your own you learn to cope with distractions, compulsions, addictions, etc. Further, relationships suffer as it is difficult to be one’s true self while using such diversions to deny the pain below the surface. Without genuine connection other areas of life feel equally dissatisfying such as work/career often coupled with chronic overwhelm or a sense of detached numbing.
Art therapy offers a safe space to explore issues such as those described above, not only through the art, but ideally with a warm, empathetic therapist who recognizes how incredibly special you are and have always been…below the layers of protection you have built to safeguard those tender areas of vulnerability.
Choosing a therapist is an important decision and should be done carefully to ensure a comfortable fit. For example, I let potential clients know up front that I like to incorporate art materials, nature walks, creative activities, and humor as valuable tools for regulating stress and allowing left and right brain integration to occur. I remind clients they do not need any experience in art, nor consider themselves particularly creative to derive the benefits of Art Therapy. Having said that, I know I am not the best fit for everyone, so I enjoy taking my time to assess each individual circumstance to identify the best way I can help. Sometimes that is referring to other local resources and/or therapists who specialize in areas beyond my scope of practice.
If you’d like to learn more about Art Therapy and the benefits check out some previous posts or perhaps you’d like to try some art directives and/or play at home as you consider whether Art Therapy might be right for you. Either way leave me a comment and let me know your experience. Has art played a role in your life? How about your healing? Has it been positive or have you experienced something not so pleasant that has left you avoiding opportunities for creative expression? Let me know in the comments below.
In either case, I’d love to hear from you and learn more about how I can support you in self expression and playful exploration. If you enjoyed this brief description of Art Therapy and think others would too, please do give it a share on your favorite social media platforms. Have questions? I love answering those too!