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Art Therapy Essay

Definition, The common ground for all arts therapies includes the focus on non-verbal communication and creative process together with the facilitation of a trusting, safe environment within which people can acknowledge and express strong emotions. (Payne 1993, in Liebmann 2004:7).

INTRODUCTION. For this assignment, the focus of this essay will be on Art Therapy. There will be a brief look at the history of the therapy, a description of the topic, the techniques employed for groups and individuals and evidence of the success of the therapy.

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BRIEF HISTORY. The history of Art Therapy comes from different areas. Franz Cizek, an art teacher from Austria, believed that children should have the freedom to express art and held an exhibition of children’s art in 1908. With the spreading of his idea, he brought the exhibition to London in 1934, where Marion Richardson promoted the notion. A second strand evolved from the world of psychiatry, with the publishing of Artistry of the mentally ill, by Hans Prizhorn two psychiatrists by the names of Eric Guttmann and Francis Reitman gained inspiration to make a collection of paintings for research.

The ‘open studio’ was pioneered by Edward Adamson, who was appointed to the Netherne Hospital in Surrey, England, to facilitate mentally ill patients. Finally, a third strand was derived by Adrian Hill, who first coined the term ‘Art Therapy’ in his book art versus illness in1945. Along with other pioneers, they banded together in1963 to form the British Association of Art Therapists.

A description of art therapy. The art process and how it is used in therapy are fundamental and a principle of the practice. Art therapy is a mental health profession that uses the creative process of art-making to improve and enhance the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of individuals of all ages. It is based on the belief that the creative process of artistic self-expression helps people to resolve conflicts and problems, develop interpersonal skills, manage behaviour, reduce stress, increase self-esteem and self-awareness, and achieve insight. Art therapy integrates human development, visual art (drawing, painting, sculpture, and other art forms), and the creative process with models of counselling and psychotherapy.

Art therapy is used with children, adolescents, adults, older adults, groups, and families to assess and treat the following: anxiety, depression, and other mental and emotional problems and disorders; substance abuse and other addictions; family and relationship issues; abuse and domestic violence; social and emotional difficulties related to disability and illness; trauma and loss; physical, cognitive, and neurological problems; and psychosocial difficulties related to medical illness. Art therapy programs and art therapists are found in various settings, including hospitals, clinics, public, social service, and community agencies, wellness centers, educational institutions, businesses, and private practices.

Techniques, There are two basic ways in which an art therapist can approach the idea of art therapy. The first is to be process intensive. In this approach, the art therapist uses art to help their patient(s) discover something about him or herself. Second, art is used as a catharsis, an emotional journey to which self-actualization and discovery result. Edith Kramer was the first person to champion this school of thought. Kramer emphasized the healing qualities of art-making and was concerned with artistic quality.

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The second approach is not to be so concerned with making the art but with what the person is consciously or unconsciously expressing through their art. Margaret Naumburg believed that this was the best way to utilize art therapy. In this way, the art therapist uses art as a window into the patient’s subconscious, and from there, an attempt to figure out the underlying problems that the patient may be suffering from. It can be risky to look into art too closely, but in children, who may not have the words to express their feelings, it is very beneficial to use art as a mode of expression.

Assessment often comes at the beginning of art therapy and usually happens during the first session that the therapist has with the client. Assessment is used by the therapist to find out what the client is going through and to gain any other information that he or she may wish to find out about the client. It is essential to be very up-front with the client, being very clear that the session is not treatment-oriented but is for assessment purposes. Assessment at the beginning of therapy is an essential first step because it is at this point that the therapist will decide if art therapy is a good option for the client or if it would be a waste of time.

The first thing that needs to happen during the first treatment session is for the therapist to establish a good rapport with the client. This rapport between the client and therapist is an important one because it allows for the development of trust in the relationship. In this first session, it is also essential for the art therapist to better grasp the framework from which the client is operating. This is also done in the assessment stage of the sessions. After establishing a rapport with the client and getting a grasp on the client’s vantage point, the art therapist can introduce art therapy to the client.

This is done by giving background information about art therapy and answering any client’s questions. At this point, the therapist may suggest doing some artwork. This first piece of art that the client creates is significant because it sets the tone for the rest of the session. Because many people have art anxiety in these beginning sessions, the therapist must make the client feel comfortable. This could be done by telling the client that they should not worry about artistic accomplishment but rather self-expression. Another important aspect of this first artwork is the reaction of the therapist to it.

After this first session, the art therapist needs to begin developing treatment goals and reflect on the therapist’s initial reactions after the first meeting. It is pretty hard to know when the treatment has moved from the beginning portion to the mid-phase, but a couple of key differences mark the mid-phase. First, trust between the client and therapist has been established, and the focuses of the sessions are more goals oriented. For this reason, the mid-phase part of treatment is often thought of as the post-honeymoon period.

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In the mid-phase of treatment, the therapist establishes direction and boundaries, both personal and professional. Lastly, the mid-phase portion of treatment is generally believed to be when the major issues are treated. Many different techniques are used in art therapy, and knowing which one to use at what time is one of the art therapist’s most demanding jobs. Because each case is unique and each client is different, the art therapist must custom fit the art therapy for each client. The following are some techniques that art therapists use.

  1. An exploration task can be pretty liberating. The goal is to encourage the patient/client to let go of conscious thoughts and controls and express themselves as freely and spontaneously as possible. In this way, exploration tasks are very much akin to verbal free associations. Exploration tasks are generally used in the beginning sessions of art therapy.
  2. Automatic drawing (also known as the Scribble Technique) -In automatic drawing, the patient/client is asked to relax and draw free lines or scribbles on paper. In some cases, the patient/client will be instructed not to remove his or her pen from the paper until the exercise is over. Automatic drawing provides an excellent way for the patient/client to let down their guards and thus is a good starting point for therapy.
  3. Free Drawing – In the free drawing, all the choices are up to the patient/client. All they are patient/client is told is to express themselves freely and not to worry about planning the picture. This technique is helpful because the images that the patient/client creates are often mirrored into the person’s present problems, strengths and weaknesses. Often at the end of free drawing, the patient/client is asked to share and explain what they drew about.
  4. Drawing Completion – In the drawing completion technique, a patient/client is given one or more pieces of paper that already have a few lines or simple shapes on them. These shapes or lines act as a starting point for the art therapy artist, and they are to be incorporated into a larger picture. Because of the wide individual responses to the same stimuli, this is an excellent technique for a group discussion topic. Kinget developed this approach for therapeutic purposes. Rapport-building exercises are used in both individual and group art therapy settings. The basic idea behind rapport-building exercises is to reduce the amount of isolation that the patients/clients may feel while they are creating their art. This includes isolation from the other patients/clients in the group, and the distance they feel between themselves and the therapy Expression of Inner Feelings, These techniques are designed to help the patient/client get in touch with inner feelings, desires and fantasies and to make visual representations of them. This is done in the hopes that the patient will become increasingly aware of him or herself. The therapist will then attempt to help the patient/client deal with these feelings, and move in a direction toward a solution. Self-perception is aimed at moving a client toward a more complete awareness of personal needs and body image.
  5. An interpersonal relationship is designed to make the patient/client more aware of others, and how others may perceive him or her.
  6. The Individual’s Place in the World is designed to help the patient/client to see where he or she fits into the world, and hopefully, accept and deal with this realization.
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Evidence on how effective the therapy is, From October 2010 – April 2011 (BAAT), the British Association of art therapists did a survey, out of this survey 331 surveys were collected out of which 227 surveys were fully completed. Overall 94% said that the therapy was helpful, 5% said that they were unsure and 1% said that it was not helpful at all Support-in terms of reducing social isolation (feeling accepted), meeting other people with similar experiences, providing a safe and stable environment, support is offered both by members of the group and also the therapist.

Group participants- not willing to engage or not getting along with other members in the group, maybe transference issues?- Should be better addressed by the art therapist? Some of the drawbacks include- Therapy not being offered or not being offered early enough, the group closing or coming to an end due to funding or treatment coming to an end. Not getting along with group participants or some of them not engaging in the activities is off-putting, funding it privately is too expensive and it creates co-dependency on the group and its members.

• I am 36 and only now do I believe it is possible to have a life with the normal things my friends have. I have also found that using art as a therapeutic tool has unleashed my creativity and this has enriched my life. I don’t know what I would have done if I hadn’t attended that first Art Therapy session. It may sound dramatic but I believe it’s saved my life …… who knows where it will take me and for the first time I am excited about life. (British Association of Art Therapists)


  • Darling, D, Kelly (2004) Uncovering the history of children’s drawing and art Published by Preger publishers, 88 Post Road West, Westport, USA.
  • Jones, Phil, (2005) the arts therapies: a revolution in healthcare, Published by Brunner-Routledge, 27 church road, Hove East Sussex United Kingdom.
  • International Journal of Art Therapy: Inscape 2012
  • The official journal of the British Association of Art Therapists, Volume Number: 16 Published By: Routledge
  • Malchiodi, A, Cathy (2011), Handbook of Art Therapy, Second Edition The Guilford press, 72 Spring Street, New York, New York.

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Art Therapy Essay. (2021, Sep 28). Retrieved June 29, 2022, from