What is art psychotherapy?
Art psychotherapy is a psychological therapy available to those who may find verbal therapy and expression difficult to access or not enough. Arts-based materials, tools and resources are used in this therapeutic approach as its primary mode of expression and communication. Within this context, art is not used as diagnostic tool but as a medium to address issues relating to emotional, psychological and physical health and well-being. Art psychotherapy is provided in groups or individually, depending on clients' needs. It is not a recreational activity or an art lesson, although the sessions are often enjoyable. Clients do not need to have any previous experience or expertise in creativity and art making.
How does it work?
Art psychotherapists combine a range of psychotherapeutic interventions with art making, creative tools and creative thinking, which enable clients to effect change and growth. By using art materials and creative tools, clients are able to gain insight and resolve difficulties. Artwork and images can provide a means of expression and communication (with oneself or others) when words are difficult or impossible; they can also become a focus for discussion, exploration and self-evaluation.
Art psychotherapy differs from other psychological therapies in that it is a three way process between the client, the therapist & the image or artefact. It can evoke a powerful process; buried or repressed feelings can be brought to the surface quickly and easily. Art making can also become a powerful diary of what was experienced in therapy, reminding the client and therapist of any processes undertaken, recurrent themes & patterns throughout therapy. Art psychotherapy is adaptable & democratic: most people are capable of being creative and making art whatever their emotional, intellectual, physical or linguistic capabilities are.
What can art psychotherapy be used for?
Art psychotherapists work with children, young people, adults and the elderly and work in a diverse range of practice settings. Clients may have a wide range of difficulties, disabilities or diagnoses. These may include emotional, behavioural or mental health problems, learning or physical disabilities, life-limiting conditions, neurological conditions and physical illnesses. Art psychotherapy has more recently developed a broad range of client-centred approaches such as psycho-educational, mindfulness and mentalization-based treatments, compassion-focussed and cognitive analytic techniques and socially engaged practice.
Clients who benefit from art psychotherapy may include:
§ Those who are isolated & difficult to engage.
§ Those who have difficulty expressing themselves verbally, or are unable/unwilling to do so.
§ Those who use verbal expression to dissociate from emotional processes.
§ Those who are highly articulate, who may use words as a form of defence against feelings & true communication.
§ Those who experience their emotions as overwhelming or chaotic & struggle to express their feelings appropriately.
§ Those who lack motivation or are ambivalent about engaging in psychological therapies and treatment.
§ Those who have history of abuse, trauma, PTSD symptoms, somatisation, learning disabilities, physical, emotional & psychological disorders & sensory impairments.
§ Those who self-harm; Art psychotherapists can provide an alternative, safer means of acting out, e.g. scraping, tearing, cutting materials, or through destruction of images and artwork in art psychotherapy sessions, enabling symbol formation.
What can I expect from an art psychotherapy session?
Art psychotherapy offers a chance to experiment with art materials in a creative and spontaneous way. The artwork can then be used as a way of making sense of what is happening in your life. The art psychotherapist will not teach art but will support you in using materials in your own way and at your own pace. You might have an assessment in art psychotherapy to begin with to determine if it is a suitable form of treatment for you. These initial sessions can help you to decide whether Art psychotherapy is going to be helpful for you. You might then receive 1:1 or group therapy leading to long term or time-limited treatment.
An individual art psychotherapy session usually lasts up to one hour, once a week. Group sessions can sometimes be longer than one hour. The sessions will take place in a room that is either dedicated to art psychotherapy or space that has been adapted for the session. A variety of art materials will be available with space to make artwork, somewhere comfortable to talk to the art psychotherapist, and with confidential storage for anything you make during therapy sessions.
Clients are encouraged to make any kind of art, including painting, drawing or making sculptures. Found images and objects and non-traditional materials can often be used. Some art psychotherapists use a directive approach by offering themes or suggestions, whilst others take a non-directive approach which is client led. The clinical setting & client’s capacity to use the materials may determine the approach. There may be times when no image is made, meaning that sessions may consist of only image making, only talking or both.
You can find out more about art psychotherapy on the BAAT (British Association of Art Therapists) website: www.baat.org