Art therapy for counselling

The use of art can assist in getting at the problem and the solution through a concrete process with art materials

I gather that your office now offers art therapy as a form of counselling. I’ve heard of art therapy, but I’d like to find out more about it before I give it a try. What can you tell me?

Thank you so much for your inquiry. Many people I talk with have heard of, but don’t understand the term art therapy. Questions such as, “Do I have to be good at art to do art therapy?” and “Will art therapy make me a better artist?” come up regularly.

I’ll begin by answering these questions. No, you absolutely do not need to be good at art to participate in art therapy. This form of counselling/therapy provides the client with another language for self-expression. Art therapists work in a variety of ways. One format is that of being client-centered, which means that the emphasis is on strengthening the awareness and understanding of the individual’s own attitudes, feelings, and behaviours. A safe, creative space and materials are provided; choices are given; and the goal of comfort and ease is top priority.

Through participation in art therapy an individual may become more relaxed about creative self-expression by being given the opportunity to explore and express in a non-judgmental atmosphere.  art therapy can guide one toward becoming a better artist, but that is not the primary aim. The nature of the therapeutic process is active in art therapy sessions, encouraging one to participate in one’s own treatment through the creative process.

Art therapy is practiced with a wide range of people. Children, adolescents, adults, the elderly, people with addictions, individuals with serious and sometimes terminal illnesses, war veterans, people with disabilities, families experiencing difficulties, prisoners, and individuals experiencing a wide spectrum of emotional disorders, i.e. anxiety and depression. Art therapy is essentially the marriage of two disciplines: art and psychology. The term therapy means, “to be attentive to.” An art therapist is attentive to the individual who is making the art through various levels of guidance. This guidance is key to the therapeutic process. This supportive relationship is necessary to guide the art-making experience and to help the individual find personal meaning through it along the way.

The art making/creative process in art therapy is an opportunity to express oneself imaginatively, authentically, and spontaneously. This experience can lead to personal fulfillment, emotional healing, and transformation. Also, the art is a means of symbolic communication. In a nutshell, we’re dealing with two main components; the process and the product. Art therapy is a combination of these components and is fulfilling, rewarding, satisfying, and, most of all, healing.

Art therapy sessions can be short or long-term. The use of art can assist in getting at the problem and the solution through a concrete process with art materials. This is a gentle method of exploration that can be beneficial through making the problem visible and tangible. The materials provided are varied. Paints, pastels, markers, coloured pencils, collage papers, clay, plasticine, and more. The use of anything and everything is part of the experience. The choice is yours.

As you can see, art therapy is a challenging term to define. Therapists work in many different ways and with many different types of people and issues. I hope that I have clarified your query somewhat.  I encourage everyone, when considering embarking on a therapeutic journey, to meet his or her potential therapist and see and feel the space beforehand. This can help one to feel at ease and help to begin the journey.

To ask a question of the counsellors, for a response in future columns, e-mail Consult a Counsellor is provided by registered clinical counsellors Nancy Bock, Diane Davies Leslie Wells, Andrew Lochhead Sara-Lynn Kang and Carolyn Howard at pacific therapy & consulting inc. It appears every second Thursday in the Record.