Distinctive Therapeutic Features Offered by Art Therapy

Art Therapy is an alternative form of expression, a different “language”. It is particularly useful when a verbal description or expression seems inadequate. The visual dimension of art therapy enables a subtler, sometimes more detailed and definitely very personal statement to be made. Feelings, emotions, sensations and fleeting or dissociated memories can be expressed through form, design, movement and colour instead of only words and gestures.

Art Therapy produces a concrete form of otherwise illusive experiences. Once these experiences are made visible through art, they can be observed objectively, discussed, labeled and even stored on a shelf or in a portfolio. Giving form to the formless can be very helpful. Being able to look again at this artistic “statement” at a later date can be very instructive.

Art Therapy uses creativity to transcend mental blocks and reach into that which is understood and remembered by the unconscious as well as the conscious mind. Spontaneous insight and “whole knowing” seem to “pop up”, bringing with them understanding and solutions. This happens while the client is directly involved in using the art materials, in the creation of the art product, and later, in the processing of the art work. Art therapy is well suited to enhancing self-awareness and changing perspectives.

Art therapy art materials themselves can influence and “speak to” feelings, emotions, states of mind. An easily controlled coloured pencil offers a degree of security to an anxious client. Finger paints can loosen and relax someone who is withdrawn. Conversely, finger paints would not be a good selection for someone who already feels out of control. Clay offers solidarity and resistance, and yet can be formed and re-formed. Colours can vary from soft to intense and can be blended, metaphorically echoing moods and decisions. Art materials can be used to challenge and to encourage safe risk taking.

Art therapy is “user-friendly” – no artistic talent or previous experience is needed. The direction and depth of exploration that occurs can be set by the needs of the client and by the therapist. Art therapy is effective whether it is used for relaxation, for catharsis (expending energy or emotion), or as psychotherapy (eliciting specific goals and changes by employing specific techniques).

Art therapy operates within a three-part therapeutic relationship, consisting of the client, the therapist and the art product. The art product, while being a direct reflection and manifestation of the client, can be viewed objectively and from a safe distance by the client him or herself. By focusing on the art product, sensitive issues can be approached more readily, and by projecting onto it, different perspectives come into play. The art product itself acts as a record. The process of making the art is as important and dynamic as the final product.

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