What is an Art Therapist?
An Art Therapist is someone who, after completing an undergraduate university degree has gone on and graduated from a two-year accredited art therapy training school. An art therapist has specialized training in psychology, psychotherapy and art.
An Art Therapist is also required to be member, in good standing, of their provincial or national association and a member of the College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario.
How will Art Therapy benefit me?
Creating art has many intrinsic benefits.Many times we have feelings that can not be expressed adequately in words. Creative art and play can provide a means of expression for that which has no words, or is not yet understood. With the help of a sensitive and caring art therapist art can act as a bridge to beginning to understand and describe those feelings in words and to better integrate the meaning of those feelings in our lives.
Art can provide relaxation, a coping tool, a safe form to express undesirable or uncomfortable feelings.
Art therapy can:
- Increased verbal and nonverbal communication skills through art making.
- Extend emotional vocabulary through art making.
- Addresses the core issues that drive behaviour.
- Increase tolerance for frustration through creative problem solving
- Enhance self-esteem and emotional self-awareness through developing self-mastery of emotion through the art making process.
- Support the ability to make choices
- Decrease depression, anxiety, emotional and behavioural problems.
- Increase socially acceptable behaviour and ways of expressing emotions.
- Increase academic performance and investment in learning.
Do I need to be an artist or good at art?
For most people their drawing or technical ability will only be as good as the last time they drew and this could be when they were very young. Presenting your art to a therapist can result in a feeling of vulnerability and many clients feel as if “it’s not good enough”. You can trust that your creation will be honoured with respect.
Art therapy focuses on the process and the experience of creating. Art Therapy isn’t concerned with making pictures that are nice to look at or artistically “correct”. The purpose of creating art in session is for expression, sharing your unique story, or exploring a personally meaningful life experience, image, or symbol. Any form of artistic expression is considered meaningful and can be useful in therapy. No art experience is necessary.
What are the limitations?
Art therapy treatment has the advantage of including a non-verbal approach and many people feel it is a less threatening. Treatment plans are also highly individualized to meet the specific needs of the client.
Not every approach is right for every client. I will check in often with my clients, especially near the end of session to reflect on what has been useful. Be honest with yourself and your therapist about what is or isn’t working for you. This is the quickest way to find the best treatment option.
What’s so special about Art Therapists? Can’t anyone do art activities to help others?
An Art Therapist is specially trained in both art and psychotherapy. In itself art-making can be experienced on a range of enjoyable to frustrating. An art therapist is trained to pair art directives with the individual needs of the client in order to draw out awareness and increase self esteem, coping skills, appropriate emotional expression or work towards whatever the goals of therapy may be.
The role of the art therapist is to facilitate an environment where the client can navigate their own course of self-motivated intrapersonal learning, thus strengthening their internal locus of control and motivation, in addition to addressing the needs presented by the client. The art therapist does not offer interpretation, per se, but guides the client through asking questions related to the art object or dialogue, that lead the client to realizing and integrating aspects of the self formerly unknown, unseen or forgotten. There are many different ways to facilitate this process based on what psycho-therapeutic orientation the therapist is trained in. Many therapist develop an integrated approach and are versed in many different ways to process the art and the client’s experience.
I use a phenomenological approach to facilitate a deeper understanding and integration of the clients artwork with how they are feeling and the goals they have set for themselves in therapy. It is the participants’ perceptions, feelings, and lived experiences that are most important.
There are 5 key concepts of phenomenology that can be applied to art therapy. These concepts are: description, reduction, intentionality, essence, and world.
The Description – refers to describing the phenomenon, not giving an explanation or interpretation. The phenomenon can include the art, the experience, or the story. The Reduction, also referred to as bracketing out (of assumptions), is the process of recognizing and putting aside one’s assumptions. The Intention refers to when one is intent on what one is looking at, the object of attention begins to exist more than before. It becomes important. It takes on meaning to explore. The intention here is to explore the existential meaning of life for the individual. The Essence is the core nature of the phenomenon (the artwork, and the client’s story). The World refers to how the person exists in his or her own personal history/culture, how he or she is in the community, and/or how his or her behaviour functions with others.
“It is the attitude of the phenomenologist… to cultivate openness to interpretation and a restraint against certainty. The ability to perceive and describe with openness and wonder, the ability to describe without explaining, judging or making assumptions, the ability to look with intention and to consider everything in context and relationship, and to intuitively distill the essence are all important therapeutic qualities.” (Carpendale, 2009. p. 39)
What is your philosophy of practice?
One of my core beliefs is that, like a compass trying to find its true north, everyone intuitively orientates him- or herself towards health and wants to feel better. This is the motivation I see in my clients. No matter how maladaptive their behaviours happen to be functioning in the world, there are reasons for these behaviours. I believe they exist in service of survival. The behaviour can be seen as the needle of the compass that points towards emotional and mental survival.
I use a client-centered approach that is based on empathetic listening, acceptance and the capacity to be honest, open and congruent with the client’s needs. I believe that the client is the expert on him or herself and when the client experiences a genuine accepting, and empathetic environment this empowers the client to have a more self-directed capacity to resolve their difficulties.
The first session involves an introduction to the art therapy room, the signing of consent forms and sharing your story with the therapist. A contract for how many sessions you would like will be established as well as some goals you would like to accomplish in therapy. You can expect your therapist to listen to you with respect and non-judgement. You can expect your therapist will be supportive and help you figure out what goals might be the most beneficial for you to focus on at that time.
You will receive a folder to store your art, which you can draw or paint on to make it your own. This folder will be kept safe by the therapist throughout your time in therapy.
What can I expect throughout the course of therapy?
You can expect to feel safe knowing that “part of the deal” is that you may say as much or as little about your art as you like. The therapist will design a treatment plan with suggested art directives that are designed to best suit your individual needs and goals. However, if a suggested directive doesn’t suit the direction you feel lead to follow that day you are encouraged to explore what feels useful and right for you to do in that moment.
The use of spontaneous art is respected and viewed as a way to express your most predominant needs. Many rich discoveries can be made from working in this way.
What can I expect at the end of therapy?
At the end of therapy or at significant points or breaks, it is a common to have a gallery review of the art. This can be an enlightening experience as patterns of colour, subject matter, themes of content or feeling tone and progress emerge when the art is viewed together.
At the end of therapy the folder and it’s contents are yours to take home, if you wish. Some clients prefer to leave certain art pieces with the therapist. The therapist is obligated to hold onto these pieces for a period of 6 months, after which, they will be disposed of in a manner that respects confidentiality.
The end of therapy is a time to celebrate and honor your hard work and accomplishments. It is a time to reflect back and also look forward to new goals to set for yourself.
Creating and processing art is the core of art therapy. The art is viewed respectfully as an extension of the self. It is handled with care. My approach is to never fold, write on or alter the art in any way. It is considered a sacred part of therapy and is kept confidential.
The option is given to allow reproduction of the art in professional journals and books or for the purposes of teaching, conferences or case studies. Confidentiality is always maintained. Clients who choose this option have found their experience helpful and want to share this with others who may also find help and comfort through their story. This is an individual and sensitive decision and is approached with the utmost respect.