Art Psychotherapy vs Art Therapy

Published on 20th December, 2021

Art Psychotherapy vs Art Therapy

Art therapy is the use of artistic methods to treat psychological disorders and/or improve mental health. Art therapy is a technique rooted in the idea that creative expressions can foster healing and personal emotional well-being. It is an integrative mental health and human service that aims to enrich individuals, families and communities through artmaking, creative process, applied psychological theories and human experiences within a therapeutic relationship between the therapist and the client. Art therapy comes in multiple forms such as dance, drama, expression, music, visual and writing therapy. The goal is to utilise the creative process to aid with self-expression. Additionally, new coping mechanisms may be gleaned through improved personal insight.

Art psychotherapy expands on this concept by incorporating psychoanalytic processes which seeks to access the unconscious mind. Jungian psychology influenced the development of art psychotherapy to access the unconscious, by stating that “by painting himself he gives shape to himself”. As such, art psychotherapy primarily focuses on externalising problems, reflecting on them, analysing them, which may enable a resolution to come forth. This may help to improve the mental wellbeing and quality of life of individuals by acknowledging and recognising feelings that have been buried. This may further help to manage existing psychological disorders.

According to a study published in the Wiley Handbook of Art therapy DE Gussak et al. (2015) the benefits of Art psychotherapy includes:

  • Reduction of stress and anxiety
  • Positive improvements on mental health
  • Relief from emotional trauma, physical violence, domestic abuse

Some situations in which Art Psychotherapy can be utilised includes:

  • Individuals living with brain injury and mental health problems
  • Adults, adolescents and children experiencing severe stress
  • Adults, adolescents and children experiencing behavioural or social problems
  • Adults, adolescents and children who have experienced traumatic events
  • Reflecting on the past or difficult memories that are hard to talk about
  • Understanding deeply rooted problems by accessing the subconcious mind and internal conflicts
  • Making greater sense of one’s world or emotional conflicts
  • Fostering self-awareness and personal growth

However, due to the popularisation of art psychotherapy, various misconceptions have emerged. Common misconceptions include:

  1. Being artistically inclined is required
  • Artistic abilities are not a pre-requisite for art therapy. Individuals of all ages including children, tends, adults and elderly can equally benefit from Art therapy despite having no prior background.
  1. Art psychotherapy is the same as art class
  • Art psychotherapy involves significant professional training and experience. Over the last 60 years, the profession has progressed, with standards of training and a body of research to guide credentialed practitioners in ethical practice of art psychotherapy. Art Psychotherapists hold a postgraduate Master’s certification in this field, and also often have a background in visual arts or working with vulnerable people. This gives them extensive training in the use of both psychotherapy, and visual language in the therapy room. Presently, Art Psychotherapy is practiced in a wide variety of settings (e.g., hospitals, psychiatric and rehabilitation facilities, schools and private practice). Engaging in therapeutic art activities as advertised by non-art therapists is inaccurate as art therapy can only be practiced an individual who possess the required training, certification and/or state licensure. Bona fide art therapy is beyond the scope of practice for non-art psychotherapists.
  1. Adult colouring books are Art therapy
  • While colouring books are not discouraged for recreation and self-care, colouring activities differ from art psychotherapy services provided by a credentialed art therapists. Oftentimes, colouring books are inaccurately termed art psychotherapy in their branding. Colouring is an active process that may serve as externalising focus and redirecting individuals preoccupied with unhealthy internal dialogue. However, this is not equal to the inherent art-making that occurs in art psychotherapy. Furthermore, under the guidance of an art psychotherapist, individuals may realise certain images speak to their internal experiences in ways that foster deeper understanding.
  1. Art is just for children
  • Art therapy is not “just for children”! It can be used with a wide range of ages, and conditions, as long as the person is open to using art materials to express themselves. It can be especially useful for people who find it difficult to talk about what they are thinking, feeling or experiencing currently, and may find it easier to work visually.

What is the process in Art Psychotherapy?

It starts with a conversation. Every therapeutic relationship starts with an initial consultation. During this time, our art psychotherapists will get to know you and what has brought you into the therapy space. They will share more about the approach as well as answer any questions you may have about your work. The first consult also naturall unfolds into the second part of your work - the assessment. These first few art therapy sessions are usually used to explore more deeply what goals or issues you may have for your art therapy sessions. During ongoing art psychotherapy sessions, you and your therapist will journey together to explore these issues. Your therapist will also regularly review your goals, progress and need for therapy with you.

If you would like to know more about art psychotherapy and whether it is suitable for your needs, do feel free to book an appointment with us.