Art Therapy as a Career and Practice

What is art therapy?


Since early man scratched crude images on cave walls, art has been a way to add beauty and meaning to our lives. For the artist, creating is a means of expression—a way to offer a tiny peek into one’s soul. Art is a language without words communicating hopes, dreams and sometimes fears. It becomes a voice when words will not suffice. It shows us a new way of looking at life while adding beauty and value to our existence.

Art has also become a means for psychological exploration and healing. Scientific studies reveal that art affects healing by changing a person's attitude from one of stress to deep relaxation. Art affects a person's autonomic nervous system, their hormonal balance and brain neurotransmitters. Armed with this knowledge, therapists have begun to incorporate clay, paint, markers, and chalk as tools for coping with stress, working through traumatic experiences or improving relationships with family and friends. Professionals trained in both art and therapy utilizes the creative process in conjunction with traditional psychological techniques to enhance the counseling experience. Art Therapy is the term used to describe this process.

Art is used in a psychological setting for two primary reasons: 1.) the creative process is therapeutic, and creating art is an activity that promotes healing. It emphasizes the act of creating as a therapeutic process; 2.) Art is a form of language—a context for the expression of emotions and conflicts. It focuses on the meaning of art as a tool for understanding.


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Art therapy as a process


There is an endless variety of methods for using art as a tool for healing, and each client represents a unique challenge for the therapist. The first task is to create a safe, relaxed atmosphere in which a client can engage in creative projects. Assignments are then suggested to provide structure and a basis for evaluation. The goal is to encourage an honest expression of emotions; art therapy is not art instruction. Frequently feelings will be expressed through the manner in which tools are utilized. For example, bold brush strokes or vigorous work with clay suggests different thoughts than carefully controlled lines and patterns. All are valid and offer insights into the artist’s feelings, and a therapist must be alert for clues that indicate what a client is experiencing. The expression of emotions is encouraged through continuation of the creative process, and discussion ensues when appropriate. Patients are encouraged to keep their art and reflect on its meaning at a later time. It becomes the starting point for a thorough analysis of their feelings.

The purpose of art therapy is to promote the mental and emotional health of a patient, but it is not a happiness pill. Psychologists don’t set out paper and markers, sit back and expect patients to draw for an hour and feel better. Art therapy is a discipline requiring years of study and practice to utilize effectively.



Art Therapy Ideas and Projects


There are an infinite number of ways the practice and appreciation of art can be used in the therapeutic process. For example, it can be used to express love and devotion, similar to making a Valentine's Day card. Hand-drawn wrapping for gifts can be a means to work through holiday stresses surrounding gift giving or finances. Stress paintings, emotion wheels, journals and drawing pads are all tools therapists encourage clients to use in dealing with emotions. Counselors suggest drawing the perfect day, freedom or spiritual experiences to express happiness. Therapists offer self portraits as a means to explore self-image, hopes for the future, a coat of arms to identify strengths, and many more powerful ideas. There are myriad ways to use creating art to identify and analyze feelings. It is such a diverse and powerful tool, and its increased use in therapeutic settings is exciting.


The look of therapy

From the beginning, man has used art to express himself
From the beginning, man has used art to express himself
Art therapy can be in an individual or group setting
Art therapy can be in an individual or group setting
There are no restrictions or limits on creative therapy
There are no restrictions or limits on creative therapy
Art therapy can be used as a distraction from physical ailments and pain
Art therapy can be used as a distraction from physical ailments and pain
Children are masters at using art to project their thoughts and feelings
Children are masters at using art to project their thoughts and feelings
Exploring emotions is the foundation of art therapy
Exploring emotions is the foundation of art therapy

Art therapy training, certification and career opportunities


Training and certification

An increasing number of universities in the United States offer degrees in art therapy. Colleges without an art therapy program frequently link art therapy to other disciplines in art, education or psychology. Many professionals consider those with artistic ability better suited to successfully utilize art therapy in their profession, but the requisite training and education emphasizes counseling and psychology. Certified art therapists typically hold at least a masters-level degree in art therapy or a related field. They are skilled in the application of a variety of artistic styles and processes (drawing, painting, sculpture, and other media) for assessment and treatment. Educational requirements include studies in the theories of art therapy, counseling, and psychotherapy; assessment and evaluation; individual, group, and family techniques; ethics and standards of practice; human and creative development; multicultural issues; and, practicum experiences in clinical, community, and/or other settings.

The American Art Therapy Association (AATA) regulates the educational, ethical & professional standards for this field in the United States. The Art Therapy Credentials Board (ATCB) is responsible for evaluating candidates and granting them registration as a professional art therapist. In the United States, art therapists may become Registered (ATR), Board Certified (ATR-BC), and in some states, licensed as an art therapist or creative arts therapist (LCAT). If you want to become a Board Certified art therapist in the United States, the ATCB requires you to pass a written exam and maintain credentials.


Art Therapy Jobs

Studying art therapy offers training that is useful in a variety of professions. Psychologists, counselors, social workers, nurses, teachers, doctors and hospice caregivers make use of art therapy in a variety of situations. For those uninterested in private practice, hospitals, clinics, and residential care facilities are usually the biggest employers of art therapists. Substance abuse centers are another place where jobs can be found. Educational institutions often employ art therapists to work with disabled students in special education programs. Jobs in higher education also include teaching and academic research. Perhaps the most practical use of an art therapy background can be made by artists themselves. Artists have often created for cathartic reasons, frequently without understanding why. To comprehend the physical and psychological value of creativity can allow artists to trust their own thinking and express themselves in new ways.

Anyone interested in art therapy as a career should consider supplementing their formal training with volunteer work. The nature of using artwork as a tool for therapy (or self-exploration) frequently requires working outside the office. Art therapists commonly conduct workshops or seminars in a studio setting that requires assistance to manage. Volunteers are usually asked to help create and operate art groups for clients of all ages. They are expected to demonstrate art tools and processes, and must be capable of communicating in a relaxed and compassionate manner. As with any field of endeavor, volunteer work is a practical way to gain knowledge and experience.



A rational use for art


Art affects every cell in the body to create a healing physiology that changes the immune system and blood flow to all the organs. Art also changes a person’s attitude, emotional state, and pain perception. It transforms one’s outlook and way of viewing the world. An enhanced understanding of this process allows art to be used more fully in the treatment of physical and emotional distress and trauma.

Art therapy has been used with bone marrow transplant patients, people with eating disorders, emotionally impaired young people, disabled people, the chronically ill, chemically addicted individuals, sexually abused adolescents, caregivers of cancer patients, and others. It has also been used to engage and distract patients whose illnesses or treatments cause pain. In spite of its variety of uses amongst a broad spectrum of patients, art therapy has only recently begun to receive acceptance from the psychological community. The validation of art as a means for understanding human nature is logical; art has offered a mirror to the human situation for centuries. We have always used art to describe ourselves and our world. The depiction of beauty, mundane life, historical events and spiritual beliefs all provide insights into our perception of reality. It makes sense to use the images we create to understand ourselves better. It will only be natural to integrate the creative process into more and more aspects of our lives and careers in the future. It will be good for everyone.


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Comments 44 comments

artfux profile image

artfux 6 years ago from Novato, CA

So true, I feel so relaxed after I created art.. It is if I poured my feelings out to the canvas, and made sense of what stirred inside me.. This was very informative, thank you for sharing this information.. This gives much light to the healing power of the creative arts..

Sylvia Pekarek


equealla profile image

equealla 6 years ago from Pretoria, South Africa

Mike, I have rated this up and all the rest. We use art therapy in various situations. But I have never heard of it as a professional therapy occupation, as you describe it above, in our country.

I am going to introduce the concept to some groups. In our current situation, I can only see benefits coming from putting up a system like this in this country of mine. As you know, I am searching at present for ideas to uplift and build, this is a definite GOOD idea!

Thanks for telling about it.


VenusPandora profile image

VenusPandora 6 years ago

I am almost finished with my masters in art therapy. This article was great. But you only include "Art as a process" where there are art in therapy, art as therapy, as well as art as a product.


lilypjmom2122 profile image

lilypjmom2122 6 years ago from Minnesota

Very well written and interesting. My art teacher in high school told me to get into this field. I kind of wish I had listened now. :)


EnLydia Listener 6 years ago

Hi, it was neat reading this article, as my daughter has her masters in art therapy...she works with last chance kids in New York...she is just now starting her own practice working with athletes. Basically even though the emphasis is on art...she had to be trained as a pyschotherapist.


MartieCoetser profile image

MartieCoetser 6 years ago from South Africa

Mike, this is indeed an interesting and feasible concept in many areas of life. It does not only comfort and heal, but also unites and harmonizes. Arts and culture, comprising music, dance, arts and drama, is a compulsory school subject in our country for learners from Gr1-9, though it needs to be refined in order to meet the requirements of senior (Gr10-12) and tertiary education. Of course you need to be an accomplished artist or at least skilled in order to become a therapist in this medium. Great hub!


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 6 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

"It shows us a new way of looking at life while adding beauty and value to our existence." This is oh so true, Mike. I do not paint, I draw sketches once in awhile, but one of my passions is to create pictures from beads and/or fabric. This is so therapeutic for me.


drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida

You did an excellent job, Mike, of explaining art therapy and how it may be utilized in various venues. Psychologists have long used art expression by their clients as a tool to further understand a client's rationale and emotions.

There is a test called D.A.P. (Draw A Person) which I once used successfully with children who were believed to have been abused.


Paradise7 profile image

Paradise7 6 years ago from Upstate New York

This is a great hub, Mike. I might even be interested in volunteering to assist. I can carry things and set up chairs and be real nice to elderly folk or people with a disability. I'm always calm and pleasant and presentable--those are assets, I think, in that situation. It sounds like this is so very good for people, and they can come up with some astonishing art.


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Artfux, thanks for reading. Art can have a profound effect on the artist. It simultaneously relaxes me and makes me more focused. It is a powerful tool for exploring what is inside us and showing what we find to the world. It sounds as if art does the same thing for you, as well. I would be a basket case without my art. Thanks again.

Mike


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Equealla, thanks so much for reading. I am proud and humbled to hear that you will present some of the ideas to folks in your country. It is relatively new as a profession here, but it is growing, and it is receiving attention for all the right reasons. It is not a wonder drug funneling money into pharmaceutical companies, but rather an insight into the human situation. Learning how we respond to art is fundamentally correct.

I hope you find success introducing art therapy as an occupation to people in your country. It is very worthwhile, and you are correct--it is positive and uplifting. Thanks again for reading.

Mike


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

VenusPandora, thanks for reading. Congratulations on nearing the finish of your education in art therapy. I'm sure you will find it a very rewarding career. You are correct, I only touched upon a few aspects of art therapy. I would consider my category of art therapy as a process as an umbrella term loosely describing art as therapy, art in therapy, and art as a product, describing tiny pieces of each process. Were I to write a larger article, I would certainly have gone into more depth about the distinctions of each and their role in using art as therapy. (I confess I was concerned about making my article too long.)

I thank you again for reading and wish you luck in your career.

Mike


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Lilypjmom, thanks for stopping by. I'm sure you have chosen a fine path for yourself, but I commend your high school teacher for recommending art therapy as a career. While using art as a psychological tool has been around for decades, only recently has it become a profession all its own. And, as I said in a comment above, exploring the benefits of art therapy is such a positive action.

Thanks again for stopping by, and for your kind words. Take care.

Mike


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

EnLydia Listener, thanks for reading. Your daughter has chosen a fine field for herself, and I'm sure she will enjoy it. You're correct, the educational emphasis is on psychotherapy--art therapists must have the knowledge and background to interpret and make use of the information they gain through their patients' art. The standards for certification ensure that there's more to art therapy than simply drawing pictures.

Thanks again for stopping by, and best wishes for your daughter's success in this exciting field.

Mike


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Martie Coetser, thanks for your comments. Art enriches everyone's lives, and can be especially liberating for those suffering from emotional trauma. Art, music, dancing, singing, and all other creative forms of expression are liberating and should be encouraged to the greatest degree possible.

In the United States you don't need to be an artist to become an art therapist, but there are those who believe that someone with talent as an artist might be better suited. You certainly need to understand the creative process and how it affects us.

Thanks so much for your kind words, I appreciate them a great deal. Take care.

Mike


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Phyllis, thanks for reading, and for your comments and insights. All creative outlets offer the psychological benefits that drawing or painting offers--it is all a matter of finding our place in the creative world. When we have found where our interests and passions lead us, it becomes completely therapeutic.

Thanks again for stopping by.

Mike


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Drbj, I was hoping you would stop by and offer your insights. Thank you so much. Psychologist have used art as a tool for therapy for decades, and it is nice to see it validated as a means for discovery, growth, and for healing. I heard about Draw a Person from a friend of mine once (I don't remember if she referred to it as DAP), and at the time I recall thinking about how wonderful it is for art to be used in such a positive way. It validates art and artists for the "tools of the trade" to be of such good use to psychologists. I am even more proud to see art more fully integrated into therapy.

Thanks again for stopping by, drbj. Always a pleasure to read what you have to say. Take care.

Mike


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Paradise, thanks for reading. I would greatly encourage you in volunteering to assist an art therapist. I agree that you have qualities that would be valued (and handy) in this type of setting. I think you would also find it tremendously rewarding, as well. Helping children, the elderly, or those who are troubled is rewarding in itself--using art as a tool to help them would be tremendously satisfying for you, I think. Let me know if you decide to do this, I would love to hear about it. Take care.

Mike


coffeesnob 6 years ago

Hi Mike

Your hub is informative and very exemplary as an example of art therapy. Your choice of words and pictures to illustrate your point created new and stirred old emotions in me. I did not know there was such a thing as a degree in art therapy, although I have understood for years the impact it has in our lives. More personally speaking it was Rembrandt's painting, "The Return of the Prodigal" that saved my marriage..an author named Henri Nouwen, wrote a book after studying this picture. An Army Chaplain thought I might be interested in reading it, not knowing my situation and gave me the book. I read it, told my husband I was willing to make it work if he was, gave him the book, which he read and agreed; and on our next anniversary he bought me a copy of that painting...that was 8 years ago..It still hangs on the wall as a reminder. I know it was a God-thing, and He used art! see i told you it stirred emotions :-)

God bless

CS


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

CS, thanks for stopping by. Your story is so inspiring, and I am grateful you chose to tell it here. Art injects meaning and truth into our lives, and in so many ways we have only begun to understand. In this instance at least, the influence of art on your life was dramatic, and there is a part of me that is so pleased by this, even though it had nothing to do with me whatsoever. (I realize that probably makes no sense....)

Thanks again for sharing your story--it so beautifully demonstrates how art can affect and change our lives!!!!

Mike


prettydarkhorse profile image

prettydarkhorse 6 years ago from US

Hi Mike, I agree with art as having therapeutic powers in all facets of it. Thanks for this nice and informative hub about art therapy. It is a serious and challenging job as well. Nice to be reading your hub again, Maita


coffeesnob 6 years ago

Mike it makes perfect sense.


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Maita, welcome back! Nice to have you here reading again--I missed you! Art is wonderfully therapeutic, and I suspect we will continue to discover the physical and psychological effects art has on our lives for decades to come. I would guess we are affected by art (or music, dance, singing or acting) in ways we cannot yet imagine. It is very exciting to think about.

Welcome back and have a great weekend!

Mike


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

CS, you're right. It does make sense, and we probably have only scratched the surface of discovering what art does or can do for our lives. It is exciting to think about.

Thanks again for sharing your story, and I hope you have a great Sunday! Take care.

Mike


Lady_E profile image

Lady_E 6 years ago from London, UK

This one of the reasons I like Hubpages. I learn a lot of new things. I've never heard of Art Therapy. It's such a big thing e.g using it for bone marrow transplant patients, eating disorders, for the emotionally impaired, disabled people, chemically addicted individuals etc. No wonder it's offered as a Degree to study in Uni. This is amazing and sounds natural too.

Thanks for sharing this.

Best Wishes.


kimh039 profile image

kimh039 6 years ago

Great hub, Mike. I used a lot of art therapy when I worked with children, and the draw a person, house, tree was a standard part of the assessment process. I have been more involved in the science of therapy lately, and welcome the reminder that therapy is also an art - and a creative process - even when no art is produced.

Also, thanks for the reminder, "it is all a matter of finding our place in the creative world. When we have found where our interests and passions lead us, it becomes completely therapeutic." I'm going to reflect on that awhile.


Joy56 profile image

Joy56 6 years ago

i really enjoyed this glimpse at art therapy. It was extremely interesting.


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Elena, thanks for reading. If I were younger I might be tempted to enter this field myself. Even at my age, I have toyed with the idea of working with an art therapist in town. There is one certified art therapist in our city, and I have considered contacting her to see if I could help in some way. It is thrilling to see art used for such good purposes.

Thanks for stopping by, I appreciated your comments--as always. Hope you had a great weekend.

Mike


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Kimh, thanks for stopping by. The science of therapy, of course, is the foundation which supports art therapy. Art therapy would simply be drawing pictures without meaning if there was no one capable of evaluating the process.

It is a tremendously beautiful process, however, and it is gratifying to see art used in such a practical and respected fashion. One can only hope that scientific research will reveal even more ways to integrate the arts into the practice of health and healing.

Thanks again for stopping by, I appreciate it a great deal.

Mike


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Joy, thanks for reading. The topic is special to my heart, and I tremendously enjoyed writing this. I hope you were able to see the enthusiasm and respect I have for this growing field. It warms my heart to see art used so meaningfully.

Thanks again for reading, and I hope your weekend was a good one.

Mike


Joy56 profile image

Joy56 6 years ago

it warms my heart too, it is needed, and i would like to be involved in some small way. Sometimes i don't know if i am the patient or the therapist, i think i am at a turning point in my life........ or just getting old, either way it is quite good to see things from a different perspective.


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Joy, I had to chuckle when you questioned whether you were the patient or the therapist--I feel the same way almost every day. I am all for looking at things in a new way, however, and that is what art therapy has done for both disciplines.

Thanks so much for your comments, I am always appreciative.

Mike


Rebecca E. profile image

Rebecca E. 6 years ago from Canada

Mike-- how true it is, teh more art I produce teh better I feel, so it is something to look into.


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Rebecca, thanks so much for stopping by. Art and creating things makes us all feel better, and it is important for the medical community to acknowledge its benefits. I am thrilled that art therapy is getting the respect it so much deserves. Thanks again.

Mike


rembrandz profile image

rembrandz 6 years ago from Dubai Media City

I got a superb insight into art as a therapy!! Thanks to you Mike.

Art's health benefits have intrigued me, from what I have experienced first-hand as an artist. Additionally as a graphics & animation educator/volunteer with an interest in kids education, I have wanted to use art in my workshops for a more therapeutic effect to my pupils but did not know how or where to master it. I am now, more determined to find out.


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Rembrandz, thanks for stopping by. Within the last few years, there has been much more information available for using art in a therapeutic manner, and I think it can be of tremendous benefit to pupils. I agree that it is an exciting area and the validation of art as a therapeutic tool was long overdue. i wish you great success in using art in a therapeutic way in your workshops. Take care.

Mike


Sue Real 6 years ago

I recently was in a program for handicapped an seniors.

I taught some people to draw and use color pencils for the first time in their lives. They were so proud and happy to do so even if it was just tracing a stencil.

I am an artist and I have had several shows. Some of my work is on my hub, however, even if I never have any show again or never sell anything, I still get great peace and enjoyment out of the act of creating.

The Japanese sumi-e is an act of meditation. To start you have to make your ink by rubbing the ink block in water till you get the right color. The time it takes to do this can help a person remove themselves from the stress of the day before even starting to paint.

Great work Mike!


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Sue, thanks for stopping by! Hope you're doing well these days. Your comments about teaching art to seniors and the handicapped were so wonderful. My grandmother took drawing lessons in the senior center when she was alive, and was very proud of her work. I have a pastel drawing she did of a desert scene in my house with an award for excellence ribbon attached. She enjoyed learning to draw with her friends tremendously.

It is so easy to get lost in creating for pay that sometimes we forget there is a joy and a healing to art. I loved what you described about sumi ink--a perfect example.

Thanks so much for your comments. Stop back any time!

Mike


Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 6 years ago from East Coast, United States

Mike, I know a woman who taught art to people at a drug clinic. She said it was a wonderful experience for her students as well as for herself. And I know how painting can do wonderful things to your mind and spirit. I was just painting today and was so into it (a landscape) that I had to walk around, drink some water, and wake myself out of a sort of weird art stuper before I got into the car and drove. I was someplace else. That's got to be good for you!


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Dolores, thanks for reading. You're right, it is good for us to get immersed in an activity once in awhile. It becomes a form of meditation where the outside world is unnoticed--all we are doing is paying attention to that sheet of paper or canvas. It is liberating, and I am so pleased art as a form of therapy is being validated. Thanks for stopping by and offering your insights, I am appreciative.

Mike


pmccray profile image

pmccray 6 years ago from Utah

Mike: Excellent hub and well researched. A testimony to the benefit of this type of therapy be it art or the written word. Rated up, marked useful/awesome and shared.


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

pmccray, thanks for reading. I am a strong advocate for art as therapy (any type of art), and I am pleased to see it validated. Thanks again for your comments and the ratings. Hope your Sunday is a good one.

Mike


CarlySullens profile image

CarlySullens 4 years ago from St. Louis, Missouri

I am an art therapist for over 13 years. You did a really good job explaining the profession and the benefits of art therapy. Art therapy continues to grow as a profession, which is wonderful. We both know Mike art is healing just by doing the act. I appreciate you writing about art therapy.


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 4 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Carly, thank you so much for your comments. I am delighted to find my article has gained the approval of a professional in this field. The therapeutic benefits of creating cannot be understated, and it is exciting that art therapy is growing and gaining acceptance. If it were available as a career path in my day, I likely would have chosen it.

Thanks again, I greatly appreciate your stopping by.

Mike

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