What Is Art Therapy?

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1 MALCHIODI, Cathy, (1998) The art therapy sourcebook, Los Angeles, Lowell House. pp What Is Art Therapy? Art can be said to be and can be used as the externalized map of our interior self. Peter London, No More Secondhand Art At one time or another we all have experienced the creative and personally enriching potential of art. As a child, you probably found enjoyment in making crayon drawings, cutpaper collages, sand castles, or handprints in clay. As an adult, you may not consider yourself to be "creative" or an "artist" but still may have experienced some therapeutic aspects of art in your daily life. You may paint or take photographs as a hobby, enjoying the process of creation and recognizing that creative activities help relieve stress. You may keep a drawing diary, sketching your dreams, noting symbols, and thinking about their meanings. You may scribble lines on the corner of your notepad on your desk, finding that it helps you think more clearly and relax. All of these simple activities are ways to soothe yourself, release stress and tension, give enjoyment and pleasure, and transcend troubling feelings. They are methods of self-expression that change your state of being and tap your intuitive and creative powers. Although you have experienced some of art making s therapeutic powers, you still may not think of art as related to therapy. Depending on your personal defini-tion of art, you may think of it as something used as decoration, entertainment, or novelty, or only as those paintings and sculptures that are exhibited in museums and galleries. You may see art as only child's play, or perhaps as a diversion or hobby. While art is sometimes difficult to define, you would probably agree that art enhances your existence, but you may not be fully aware of all the ways that art can be life enhancing. While art can serve as decoration or hang in a museum, there are other purposes for art, ones that are connected to self-understanding, a search for meaning, personal growth, self-

2 empowerment, and healing. Many of us have lost contact with these purposes or have not realized that art is more than novelty or ornamentation. Drawing, painting, sculpture, and other art forms are powerful and effective forms of communication, and cultures through the ages have been defined and understood through their art. While art has been used to record human history, it has also incorporated our ideas, feelings, dreams, and aspirations. Art chronicles and conveys a wide range of emotions, from profound joy to the deepest sorrow, from triumph to trauma. In this sense, art has served as a way of understanding, making sense, and clarifying inner experiences without words. Art therapy has grown from this concept that art images can help us to under-stand who we are, to express feelings and ideas that words cannot, and to enhance life through selfexpression. However, despite its acceptance as a viable treatment method and a modality for self-understanding, emotional change, and personal growth, art therapy is not widely recognized and is often misunderstood. Art + Therapy =? People are often confused about just what the term art therapy means. While it was coined to describe the use of art expression in therapy, it frequently generates some unusual assumptions. Over the years, I have heard many interesting impressions of what art therapy might be, some of which are quite humorous. I once was asked if art therapy is only for "sick" or "disturbed" artists, providing a special treatment for curing their depressions, anxieties, or creative blocks. I was recently asked if art therapy could help improve ones drawing and painting abilities. Another person inquired if I worked with paintings and sculptures that had "problems." Apparently, he imagined that art therapy could make "bad" paintings and sculptures look better! It is easy to understand that the term art therapy can be confusing when first encountered and especially if one has not had any personal experience with it. There are several reasons why art therapy is not easily understood. First, art therapy is practiced with a wide range of people. The use of art therapy has been documented with a variety of populations including children, adolescents, adults, and the elderly; people with addictions; individuals with serious and sometimes terminal illness; war veterans; people with disabilities; families experiencing difficulties; prisoners; and individuals experiencing a wide spectrum of emotional disorders. You may have heard of art therapy being used

3 with children who have been traumatized by abuse, with troubled families to explore their problems, or with disabled older adults in nursing homes. You may know of a psychologist who asks his or her patients to make drawings as part of their therapy or an expressive therapist who uses art to help people deal with chronic pain or other symptoms. You may have read in the newspaper about an artist who works with paraplegics, helping them paint, or about a therapist who has created an art studio for disabled adults. There may be an art therapist who works in your local school system with children with learning or developmental problems, or one who works at the medical center in your community with children and adults with cancer. These are all common examples of where art therapy is used, demonstrating the vast diversity of the field. Another reason why many people are confused about art therapy comes from the experiential nature of art itself. Art therapy is a dynamic therapy, requiring one to participate in ones own treatment, in this case through art making. Therefore, truly understanding art therapy requires first-hand experience. The combination of the words art and therapy also can be confusing. rapist and psychologist Judith Rubin coined the phrase that opens this section: Art the Art + Therapy =? This formula conveys the equation that makes up art therapy the blending of art and therapy Art therapy is essentially the marriage of two disciplines: art and psychology. Aspects of the visual arts, the creative process, human development, behavior, personality, and mental health, among others, are important to the definition and scope of art therapy Art therapy brings together all of these disciplines, making it difficult to understand at first glance. Finally, as strange as it sounds, some of the confusion about art therapy may come from art therapists themselves. When you ask art therapists what they do, each offers many examples, in part because art therapy is practiced with a variety of populations. To make matters even more perplexing, there is even some dis-agreement within the professional field about how to define art therapy Because there are so many definitions of art therapy the next several sections of this chap-ter cover the ideas that have shaped the field and have distinguished art therapy from other modalities that have been used to enhance health and well-being.

4 Drawing from Within A few years ago there was a popular phrase among art therapists: Art therapy draw from within. This is a good elementary definition of art therapy and helps to distinguish it from other ways in which art is used. While an art therapy session may look like an art class on the surface, the goals and purposes are different. For example, in a typical studio art class you might be asked to draw a model, paint a composition from a still life, or sketch what you see on a nature walk in the forest. You are usually asked to draw something you see and to work at rendering it with accurate proportions, shading, and color, emphasizing technical skills and craftsmanship. In most art therapy sessions, the focus is on your inner experience your feelings, perceptions, and imagination. While art therapy may involve learning skills or art techniques, the emphasis is generally first on developing and expressing images that come from inside the person, rather than those he or she sees in the outside world. And while some traditional art classes may ask you to paint or draw from your imagination, in art therapy, your inner world of images, feelings, thoughts, and ideas is consistently important and primary to the experience. Therapy comes from the Greek word therapeia, which means "to be attentive \ to." This meaning underscores the art therapy process in two ways. In most cases, a skilled professional attends to the individual who is making the art. This person s guidance is key to the therapeutic process. This supportive relationship is necessary to guide the art-making experience and to help the individual find meaning through it along the way. The other important aspect is the attendance of the individual to his or her own personal process of making art and to giving the art product personal meaning i.e., finding a story, description, or meaning for the art. Very few therapies depend as much on the active participation of the individual. Art + Therapy = Process + Product Although art therapists have generated many specific definitions of art therapy, most of them fall into one of two general categories. The first involves a belief in the inherent healing power of the creative process of art making. This view embraces the idea that the process of making art is therapeutic; this process is sometimes referred to as art as therapy. Art making is seen as an opportunity to express oneself imaginatively, authentically, and

5 spontaneously, an experience that, over time, can lead to personal fulfillment, emotional reparation, and transformation. This view also holds that the creative process, in and of itself, can be a health-enhancing and growth-producing experience. The second definition of art therapy is based on the idea that art is a means of symbolic communication. This approach, often referred to as art psychotherapy, emphasizes the products drawings, paintings, and other art expressions as helpful in communicating issues, emotions, and conflicts. Psychotherapy is essential to this approach, and the art image becomes significant in enhancing verbal exchange between the person and the therapist and in achieving insight. With therapeutic guidance and support, art can facilitate new understandings and insights. It can help resolve conflicts, solve problems, and formulate new perceptions that in turn lead to positive changes, growth, and healing. In reality, most therapists who practice art therapy integrate both art as therapy and art psychotherapy into their work in varying degrees. In other words, both the idea that art making can be a healing process and that art products communicate information relevant to therapy are important. Therapists may emphasize one area over another, depending on their own philosophy and the person's needs and goals in art therapy.

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