abstract watercolor painting of two figures facing each other

What is Art Therapy?

Art therapy is an integrative framework combining psychology with art practice to nurture and nourish free expression of the mind and body to enhance a person's physical, emotional, and mental wellness. The creative process within art therapy can be used in conjunction with other theoretical orientations or alone to communicate a person's lived experience, intuitive wisdom, and inner self. This is evident by supporting:

  1. A person's attunement to personal emotions and needs.
  2. Developing non-judgmental awareness and understanding of ourselves, our environment, and others.
  3. Healing to foster positive present and future change.
  4. Growth to provide a voice to our most authentic selves.


These may be helpful to follow along with this blog:

American Art Therapy Association (2017) definition of Art Therapy

"Art Therapy is an integrative mental health and human services profession that enriches the lives of individuals, families, and communities through active art-making, creative process, applied psychological theory, and human experience within a psychotherapeutic relationship. Art Therapy, facilitated by a professional art therapist, effectively supports personal and relational treatment goals as well as community concerns. Art Therapy is used to improve cognitive and sensory-motor functions, foster self-esteem and self-awareness, cultivate emotional resilience, promote insight, enhance social skills, reduce and resolve conflicts and distress, and advance societal and ecological change.”

Creative Process

The action of visually expressing through art-making; The steps an individual takes to express internal thoughts, feelings, and beliefs.

Creative Voice

The passion illustrated by an individual through the art form or materials.

Framework/Theoretical Orientation

concepts and methods grounded in research used in therapy with clients to support their treatment.

How Art Therapy is Helpful

When expressing ourselves artistically through art-making in treatment, we can develop skills and tools to reduce and successfully manage challenging behaviors and thoughts that create stress and anxiety, lower self-esteem, and decrease our ability to function successfully. Art therapy practice develops solutions for instances of retraumatizing or dysregulating verbal communication in the therapeutic setting. In cases of inner conflict, the creative process can yield an empowering alternative for clients to communicate visually by exploring and listening to their creative voice to develop an expressive and symbolic finished work through movement, sound, art-making, or a combination of all three. In summation, art therapy fosters and facilitates an open space for people to express their curiosity, creativity, imagination, and vulnerability without hindrances to reframe challenges, explore conflict, and celebrate success.

Art Therapy: Who and How

Art therapy is for anyone looking for outlets of expression and is entirely devoid of artistic abilities! Art therapy methods do not discriminate against diverse and special populations, diagnosis, ethnicity, race, age, gender, or sexual orientation. The setting where art therapy can occur is just as diverse as the populations that utilize its methods. This means art therapy can occur outside of nature, school, office, car, studio, and home. Art therapy is multifaceted and flexible because art therapy covers many interventions, exercises, and activities that can be modified to fit how a person desires to communicate and express their creative voice and adapt to their physical, emotional, and mental needs. Art therapy exercises range from breathing, meditation, movement to traditional forms of art-making such as painting, writing, sculpting, and drawing to support the externalization of inner thoughts, feelings, and beliefs. Materials used to express yourself visually are also vast but can include materials you might already have at home, such as paper, pen, pencil, markers, and crayons. There are so many ways to express yourself visually!

Art Therapy: The Profession

Art therapists have studied and mastered art methodology, psychology, and psychotherapy to advocate and support a person's diagnosis, treatment, recovery, and termination through ethical mental health and human services. Equipped in both counseling and art therapy, therapists abide by principles of the profession, including autonomy, nonmaleficence, beneficence, fidelity, justice, and creativity while working with individuals, families, couples, and groups to ensure that the most ethical services are provided to clients. After receiving their master's degree and undergoing additional requirements for licensure, art therapists can receive different certifications in other areas of the creative arts to continue their education to support client populations with more specific needs. This may include addiction treatment, somatic experiencing, trauma-informed care, and yoga.

Art Therapy in Session

When an art therapist is in session with a client, they utilize their training to observe behavior, color, line, shape, symbols, and metaphors developed during the creative process to understand the client's emotions, thoughts, and experiences. The art experience can be powerful; therefore, processing the work at the end of a session is essential. The client can speak to their creation, process, narrate the experience, and even communicate with the art itself. New art-making experiences can often be vulnerable for the client, so it is important to remember that while making art in session, it is a non-judgmental space. There are no expectations of how a finished piece should look; process over product. Although this may seem uncomfortable or challenging when a client first begins using their creative process for self-exploration purposes, the end goal is to receive something from participating, no matter how small or large.