What does art therapy do

About Art Therapy - American Art Therapy Association

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 sensorimotor 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.



Art therapists are master-level clinicians who work with people of all ages across a broad spectrum of practice. Guided by ethical standards and scope of practice, their education and supervised training prepares them for culturally proficient work with diverse populations in a variety of settings. Honoring individuals’ values and beliefs, art therapists work with people who are challenged with medical and mental health problems, as well as individuals seeking emotional, creative, and spiritual growth.


Art therapists work with individuals, couples, families, and groups in diverse settings. Some examples include:

  • Hospitals
  • Schools
  • Veteran’s clinics
  • Private practice
  • Psychiatric and rehabilitation facilities
  • Community clinics
  • Crisis centers
  • Forensic institutions
  • Senior communities


Through integrative methods, art therapy engages the mind, body, and spirit in ways that are distinct from verbal articulation alone. Kinesthetic, sensory, perceptual, and symbolic opportunities invite alternative modes of receptive and expressive communication, which can circumvent the limitations of language. Visual and symbolic expression gives voice to experience and empowers individual, communal, and societal transformation.


Inaccurate use of “art therapy” often occurs due to a lack of knowledge about the profession. Such instances provide an opportunity to offer accurate information and educate the public. It is with this in mind that the AATA encourages outreach to individuals and/or companies that may be found to inaccurately categorize activities (such as trainings that are offered by non-art therapists) or products (such as adult coloring books) as “art therapy.”

Additional inquiries can be directed to the AATA at [email protected].



On occasion, non-art therapist practitioners might be found to advertise their services as “art therapy.” This is an inaccurate use of the term, as art therapy can only be practiced by an individual who possesses the required training, certification, and/or state licensure. Bona fide art therapy is beyond the scope of practice of non-art therapists.


Another context in which art therapy may be inaccurately categorized includes professional trainings that furnish a certificate upon completion, which may mislead the participant to believe that he or she can practice art therapy. These sorts of trainings, workshops, and the like, give attendees the erroneous impression that art therapy is a modality rather than a profession.

To prevent this problem, facilitators are advised to adhere to the AATA’s Ethical Principles: “When providing training and/or supervision to non-art therapists, art therapists take precautions to ensure that trainees understand the nature, objectives, expectations, limitations, and resulting qualifications of the supervision and/or training as distinct from formal studies in art therapy” (8.6). As such, a disclaimer should be used to alert attendees accordingly.


Several products on the market may inaccurately identify the term “art therapy. ” Two such examples include art therapy apps and art therapy coloring books.


While the AATA does not discourage the use of coloring books for recreation and self-care, coloring activities must be distinguished from art therapy services provided by a credentialed art therapist. Review the AATA’s official statements for details:

  • Art Therapy and Coloring Books: AATA Draws the Line, January 2016
  • The Adult Coloring Book Phenomenon, August 2015

For those interested in more information, the following articles provide accurate representations of both art therapy and adult coloring books:

  • “Adult Coloring Books: A Safe Space to Play with Color” by Conan Milner for the Epoch Times, February 2016
  • “Color Me Cautious: Don’t Mistake Adult Coloring Books for Art Therapy” by John Diconsiglio for the Columbian College of Arts & Sciences, February 2016
  • “Adult Coloring Books” (Video) with Dr. Val Huet, the British Association of Art Therapists (BAAT) Chief Executive Officer for Reuters TV, December 2015

Definition, uses, and how it works

The old saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” reflects the powerful effect that the arts and creative expression have on human understanding and communication. Art therapy works to harness that power for therapeutic means.

Just as a painting or a piece of music can say something in ways that almost defy description, art therapy provides individuals facing physical, emotional, and cognitive challenges with new pathways toward understanding and self-expression.

People do not have to be artists or even “good at art” to benefit from art therapy. This form of treatment is more than an art class or just something to keep people occupied. Art therapy uses the power of the arts and different modes of communication to get people to open up and engage with their therapy in new ways, which may enhance healing of all kinds.

Keep reading to learn more about art therapy and other forms of creative therapy that may benefit people experiencing mental health issues.

According to the American Art Therapy Association, art therapy is a kind of therapy that integrates mental health and human services by using “active art-making, creative process, applied psychological theory, and human experience.

Licensed professionals who are trained in both therapy and art conduct these sessions, which are suitable for people of all ages. It is possible to incorporate art therapy into one-on-one sessions, group therapy, and family or couples counseling.

One of the main goals of art therapy is to improve people’s well-being. It can help improve or bring back an individual’s functioning. Art therapy takes place in educational, medical, and rehabilitation settings, as well as in private practices and mental health clinics.

People who make art in any form, whether they consider themselves artists or not, are taking part in a process of self-discovery that gives them a safe space to express their feelings. Furthermore, it allows them to feel more in control over their life. This creative process is enjoyable in its own right, but this is not the only activity that goes on in an art therapy session.

In an art therapy session, an individual may do some of the following exercises:

  • painting
  • drawing
  • finger painting
  • working with clay
  • carving
  • sculpting
  • doodling and scribbling
  • making collages

Although these exercises take place under the guidance of an art therapist, what emerges should be the unfiltered responses of the individual. Understanding them can promote mental health and well-being.

To unpack this understanding, the individual and their art therapist will discuss the artwork. They will explore what objects, people, and images do and do not appear in it.

Although art has been an integral part of the human experience for thousands of years, the practice of art therapy is a relatively new development, with an artist from the United Kingdom first describing it in the 1940s.

Key thinkers came to the field from backgrounds in education, the visual arts, and psychotherapy. The “mother of art therapy,” Margaret Naumburg, became influenced by the first wave of psychoanalytic theory in the early 20th century. She believed that through the creative process, individuals brought to light unconscious thoughts and feelings that they might have repressed.

She felt that when individuals talked through this creative process with a therapist, they could come to understand what their artwork was revealing to them about themselves. This understanding would, in turn, promote psychological healing. Her writings continue to be influential in the 21st century.

The Art Therapy Credentials Board say that art therapy can address the needs of:

  • people who experienced trauma, such as combat or a natural disaster
  • individuals with significant health challenges, including traumatic brain injuries and cancer
  • people with certain conditions, such as depression, autism, and dementia

Art therapy can help reduce stress and anxiety for people living with pain. In addition, experts say that the practice may be useful for people living with other conditions, such as:

  • anxiety
  • eating disorders, alongside standard treatments
  • substance use disorders
  • stress

Practitioners say that art therapy can also help people enhance specific skills by:

  • improving their approach to conflict resolution
  • enhancing social skills
  • managing stress
  • strengthening their ability to self-regulate
  • improving their understanding of themselves

Researchers have found that art therapy can be helpful for children facing the following specific challenges:

  • childhood trauma
  • disabilities and special educational needs
  • criminal conviction as a juvenile
  • chronic asthma

Art therapy can also benefit children who are not dealing with one singular issue but face a variety of challenges in life.

The visual arts are not the only artistic discipline that it is possible to incorporate into a therapeutic practice.

Other forms of creative therapy include:


Music therapy can involve:

  • music-listening sessions
  • song and lyric writing
  • music in performance

Music therapy may support people with mental health issues, injuries, and Alzheimer’s disease, among other conditions. Some pregnant people may find it helpful during labor.


Dance therapy employs nonverbal communication to evaluate and treat an individual’s condition.


An active and experiential process, drama therapy works by helping people express their feelings and build interpersonal skills through storytelling and intentional improvisation.


Poetry therapy works to promote healing through expressive writing, such as journaling and therapeutic storytelling.

Expressive therapy

When additional creative art forms feature as part of a therapeutic process, it is known as expressive therapy.

One study found that adding dance, drama, music, and movement activities to therapy sessions for people with dementia resulted in noticeable improvements in communication, engagement, and pleasure.

Art therapy is a therapeutic approach that promotes healing by tapping into and revealing an individual’s deepest thoughts and feelings through the arts. Practitioners have completed training in both art and therapy.

This therapy is accessible to people of all ages, including those who do not consider themselves good at art. Research indicates that it might be helpful for people with a wide variety of conditions, from eating disorders to trauma.

For those who find other forms of therapy difficult or ineffective, art therapy could be an excellent option to try as an adjunctive treatment.

therapy - what it is, how it helps and what it is : Blog Alter

Many underestimate art therapy and even consider it unscientific. We talk about why art therapy methods work and who they are suitable for.

  • How Art Therapy Works
  • Types of art therapy
    • isotherapy
    • fairy tale therapy
    • drama therapy nine0006
    • puppet therapy
    • sand therapy
    • Music therapy
  • Who is this direction for?
  • What to expect from a session

Art therapy — literally “healing through creativity”; psychotherapy that uses creative techniques. However, it is different from a simple art, music or acting class. The goal of art therapy is not to create an object of art, but to work with one's own Self. It focuses not on the result, but on the process. That's why you don't have to be creative to go to art therapy. nine0003

Basically, art therapy methods are used in combination with other psychotherapeutic areas. This combination contributes to the most complete disclosure of the client, the study of injuries and the removal of blocks.

How art therapy works

Art therapy works mainly with unconscious processes. Its origins are well-known psychoanalysts - Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud. They noticed that in creativity a person expresses hidden desires and emotions. Later, the artist Adrian Hill, who worked with tuberculosis patients, noticed the positive impact of creativity on the condition of patients. It was he who introduced the concept of "art therapy". nine0003

Many people do not understand their own emotions and do not know how to express them; it is difficult for them to establish contact with themselves and others. The reason may be internal prohibitions, negative attitudes or traumas that continue to affect the psyche. Finding and expressing these problems is easier in the creative process. You do not talk about yourself directly - but express yourself metaphorically: color, sound, movement. Then, together with the therapist, "decode" the message and work through it.

Art therapy helps:

  • increase self-esteem;
  • reduce stress levels and get rid of chronic stress;
  • get rid of anxiety disorder and depression;
  • resolve family and parent-child conflicts;
  • develop effective behavioral strategies and improve communication skills;
  • better understand yourself, your desires, needs and goals.

Types of art therapy

Art therapy has many types: as many as there are varieties of creativity. But we will talk about the most common. nine0003


The most famous form of art therapy is drawing therapy. Its popularity is due to the fact that drawing is a natural activity through which a child learns the world. So, everyone has tried it at least once.

Everything is important here: the choice of tools, work with color, texture, image composition. The therapist can set a topic, or he can offer the client to choose it on his own, depending on the request and the characteristics of the person.

nine0028 Isotherapy works effectively with the sense of one's own boundaries, which is often disturbed in children.

Isotherapy works effectively with the sense of one's own boundaries, which is often disturbed in children. For example, a common technique: the therapist asks the child to lie down on a piece of paper and outline the outline of the body, and then draw something inside and out. So the child begins to better understand himself and his relationship with the world.

Working with paints, crayons, water, paper - all this also develops sensorimotor skills. Which, in turn, push the development of the cognitive sphere. nine0003

Isotherapy will help an adult client overcome constraint, dispel the illusion that he is incapable of creativity and teach new ways of self-expression.

Fairy tale therapy

Psychoanalysts often resort to fairy tale therapy. Coming up with a plot or dressing up his own life situation in a fairy tale, the client may come to an unexpected solution. Free flight of fantasy and associations with childhood contribute to self-disclosure. Therefore, fairy tale therapy is used in work not only with children, but also with adults. nine0003


Improvisation and playing different roles helps to improve the social and communicative sphere. The client develops empathy, learns to better feel his body, express emotions and build interaction with others. Also, drama therapy helps to get rid of muscle blocks and clamps, as a result - to establish psychosomatics.

Puppet therapy

A combination of fairy tale and drama therapy. It shows itself well in working with children: it is natural for them to “act out” traumatic situations and emotional experiences. With the help of doll therapy, the child develops empathy and learns effective behavior patterns. nine0003

Sand therapy

Carl Jung was the first to use sand therapy in his work. With the help of creative images in the sand, he addressed the unconscious experience of the client and "extracted" deep emotions and early experiences.

The client draws or creates various forms in the sand, reorganizes them, destroys them, remakes them. In the process, he discusses with the therapist what is happening. Creative flow and sensory impact relax, allow you to open up, “remember” and work through repressed experiences. nine0003

Music therapy

Have you noticed that music can change your mood? Art therapy uses this effect. During the session, the client can both listen to musical works, react to them emotionally, discuss it with the therapist, and compose melodies on their own.

For whom this direction is suitable

Art therapy is suitable for both children and adults. Her advantage in working with children is an element of play, expressiveness and no need to talk a lot. Thanks to the latter, art therapy shows itself well in working with children with autism spectrum disorder. There are many among them who find it difficult to express themselves verbally, and the world around them seems to them a chaotic incomprehensible structure. nine0003

Many are engaged in creativity in childhood, but stop doing it with age. And they stop being open and forbid themselves emotions.

Art therapy helps develop communication and cognitive skills, understand others and feel more confident.

Art therapy gives adults a better understanding of themselves and their feelings. Many people are engaged in creativity in childhood, but stop doing it with age. And they stop being open and forbid themselves emotions. This is bad for both psychological and physical health - art therapy addresses the "emotional brain" of a person and reveals all its benefits for a person. nine0003

Art therapy helps people who have experienced a serious illness to accept what happened and go through treatment. It shows how not to accumulate experiences in yourself, continue to enjoy life, and prevents deep depression.

What to expect from the session

An art therapy session starts the same way as in any other direction: with a request. You will discuss problems and goals with your therapist. During the creative process, the therapist may ask how you feel or guide your activities. Upon completion of the work, you will interpret the result of creativity, discussing what thoughts and memories arose in the process. nine0003

The effect can be felt already after the first session, and maybe only after a while. It depends on the individual characteristics of the client and the complexity of the request.

An atmosphere of security and acceptance reigns in an art therapy session. The therapist will not criticize or judge you. He will only guide and help in order to find answers together and reach the goal.

Selection of psychologists in Alter service

Alexander S.

works with burnout

online or in person

from 2000₽

Read more online or in person

from 1500₽

Read more

Anna H.

Helps to cope with aggression

only online

from 2000₽

Read more

Diana D.

Will help with self-esteem

online or in person

from 1500₽

Read more

Lidia K.

works with depression

online or in person

from 2500₽

Read more

750+ psychologists Pick up

Fill out the form

Rate the article

[Total: 0 Rating: 0]

Share this post

Link copied to clipboard!

what is art therapy and who is it suitable for

Drawing, dancing, pottery and other arts are used to correct mental problems: art therapy helps to cope with strong emotions and survive experiences that are difficult to put into words, such as a suicide attempt.

But not all psychotherapists recognize it as an independent school of therapy. T&P explores whether art can improve mental health, who is not eligible for art therapy, and how art can be used in more conservative approaches to treatment. nine0061


In 1938, British physician and artist Adrian Hill was treated for tuberculosis in the Midhurst resort. In parallel with the main procedures, Hill painted the landscapes surrounding him and found that creativity was a healthy distraction from illness and improved mood. The following year, he was invited to teach drawing and painting to other Midhurst patients, many of whom were soldiers who had returned from the war. Classes significantly helped to reduce their psychological stress. Hill coined the term "art therapy" at 1942 years old, and later described his work with patients in the book Art Against Diseases. The controversy surrounding this method has not subsided so far.

For example, his American follower Edith Kramer, a big fan of Freud's idea of ​​sublimation (a defense mechanism that transforms destructive desires and impulses into something positive and socially useful), believed that the creative process could heal itself. She confirmed her guesses at the Wiltwick School for Difficult Teens, where she received the title of art therapist. Proponents of this approach argue that0003

creativity helps to live and express intrapersonal conflicts, and the therapist must motivate clients to trust intuition, explore their creations and, accordingly, themselves.

Another American specialist, Margaret Naumburg, on the contrary, argued that the creative process in therapy is only a tool, not a panacea and an end in itself. With this approach, drawings (and other types of creativity) are used more as an additional diagnostic method.

Source: Benjavisa / istockphoto.com


Basically, art therapy techniques are built on the mechanism of projection: the client is given an object that is blurry in terms of content in order for him to bring his own meaning to it. It can be a Tarot card, the general meaning of which can be interpreted differently by everyone, or, as in art therapy, a fairy-tale creature drawn by the client himself.

“At the first meeting, I often ask to draw a few simple drawings. Feelings that are difficult to pronounce can be reflected on paper without censorship from the mind. This way you can get important material for interpretation and diagnosis,” says practicing psychologist and author of the School of Psychological Competence project Maria Razygrina. For example, when working with children, she often asks to draw a family in order to better understand the environment in which the child lives and how to help him cope with his feelings. nine0003

Art therapy can also help with behavior modification, notes Razygrina. For example, if you ask a client to draw their emotions on a body stencil, you can move from thinking to action by locating the problem. Fear in the legs - you can leave. Anger in the throat - to say.

Who needs art therapy?

Art therapy can be an outlet for those who do not want to visit a traditional psychotherapist - for example, for teenagers facing a transitional age crisis. Or people who have experienced experiences that are hard to put into words, such as a suicide attempt. Suicidologist David Webb, who himself tried to commit suicide, believes that measured, rational statements are not suitable for a conversation on this topic: “To break the stigma around suicide, we need to pay attention to a very personal, subjective, sometimes irrational and paradoxical, poetic and the mystical (for some, frightening) language of people who directly encountered this experience. nine0003

Art therapy is also useful for people facing chronic pain or a serious illness. A 2018 study found that half of 200 hospitalized subjects benefited from art therapy to significantly reduce pain and anxiety levels and improve their mood.

“When people are constantly in pain, they often think they are losing control of themselves. As if pain dictates to them what to do and what not to do. The practice of art therapy helps to regain a sense of power over your body through self-expression and creating something unique, ”-

says Kelsey Skerpen, art therapist at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Art therapy also helps to explore the state of physical and mental health. By drawing pain, you can analyze how it affects your mood and daily life. Englishman Gary Molloy has been living with bipolar disorder for more than 20 years and admits that drawing helps him feel stable: “I constantly encounter radical mood swings. Drawing helps take your mind off that.” nine0003

Source: Benjavisa / istockphoto.com

Personal experience

Vladislav Kondratenko, the author of the psychological project Subject 404, underwent art therapy to deal with his masculinity. At the sessions, he visualized it with pastel and gouache. “I didn't like my drawings. In addition, when you draw something on a painful topic, and a psychologist (essentially, an outsider) watches it, it is unpleasant, embarrassing and doubly sad, ”says Vladislav.

He shared this feeling with a psychologist, and she suggested changing the drawing as if there had never been any problem with masculinity. Complementing the picture, Vladislav planted a blot and was upset at first: “The psychologist noted my reaction and asked what this blot could mean. I thought that it looks like the sun inside me and actually complements the drawing perfectly. The changed image began to please me more and more.” Because Vladislav drew his developed masculinity, he felt pleasant and well, while rejection and discomfort began to recede. nine0003

Vladislav notes that during the sessions, the therapist's eyes frightened him: they seemed too penetrating. He told about this specialist, who offered to draw her eyes, changing them as if they belonged to Vladislav himself. “I did it.

All fear is gone. The effect was almost instantaneous and it blew my mind,” he says on


In the case of Vladislav, art therapy proved to be effective in solving a specific problem. Having dealt with emotions on paper, he transferred the result to real life. “I became more open and sociable. I have a choice that I didn’t have before: somewhere I can show myself courageously, but somewhere I just won’t do it, ”says Vladislav. nine0003

At the same time, this method did not help him in the treatment of depression.


A review of randomized controlled clinical trials of art therapy published in 2014 shows that art therapy can be beneficial for a wide range of people coping with strong emotions, such as war veterans and prisoners. The exception is people with schizophrenia.

Razygrina notes that the effectiveness of art therapy, like other methods, depends on how appropriate and correct it is used: “Inept therapy can exacerbate internal conflict. Show the problem, but don't explain what to do about it. Although

compared to many other areas, art therapy is a fairly safe and even gentle method.”

In another 2015 study, interviewed art therapist clients reported that the sessions taught them to focus on the present moment (which mindfulness practitioners also strive for), to feel the connection between emotions and bodily reactions, and strengthened their sense of self. Creativity allowed them to analyze complex sets of sensations (for example, by depicting them all on one sheet of paper) and improve their self-control skills by visually visualizing their moods and feelings. In general, the canvas (or any other medium) becomes a real field of experimentation for those who have not yet figured out their emotions. nine0003

Source: Benjavisa / istockphoto.com

Can I do it myself?

You can find many online lessons and self-help books on art therapy on the Internet. None of this will replace sessions with a qualified specialist, but it certainly won’t hurt and will most likely help reduce anxiety, learn a little more about yourself, throw out negative emotions, increase self-esteem and just be happy (as you know, creativity stimulates the release of dopamine).

It is not necessary to draw if you are not drawn to it. Make a collage of your favorite poems, a box of “self-care” (put everything that cheers you up), sign up for pottery courses, buy an anti-stress coloring book.

Learn more