Art therapy is the use of creative art as a means of expression for rehabilitation and personal development. Art therapy was developed in the 1940s by the artist Adrian Hill who developed the technique by working informally with patients in sanatoriums and hospitals.
During the Second World War artists employed in hospitals used his techniques to help with rehabilitating soldiers and the sick. Today art therapy is used by doctors, psychiatrists and psychotherapists worldwide to help people with physical, mental, emotional or learning problems.
Art therapy is a form of self-exploration and works by allowing people to communicate their feelings through painting, sculpting, modelling, collage and drawing.
During an art therapy session the art therapist will make an assessment about your condition and ask about your life situation and any emotional problems you have. You will then be offered crayons, charcoal, clay, paper, cardboard, fabric and old newspapers and you can use the materials in any way you wish to express your thoughts and feelings.
You do not have to be artistic to gain benefit from art therapy. The art form is a means to an end, allowing you to express emotions and feelings such as anger and grief, which are hard to put into words.
Once you have created your art you will then work with the art therapist, either separately or in a group, to explore the meaning of what you have created. Over a period of time art therapy can help a person learn many things about his or her life and personality which may previously have been unknown.
There are different ways of working within art therapy. Some art therapists do not directly interpret a person’s work, particularly those coming from a traditional art therapy background. This type of art therapist believes that it is the individual who holds the key to the interpretation of their work. However, art therapists from a psychotherapy background believe that a more directed approach is needed and use the individuals’ art to facilitate a non-verbal therapeutic dialogue between the therapist and patient. This type of art therapy is known as art psychotherapy.
Art therapy is said to benefit people who are suffering from drug or alcohol problems, eating disorders, psychosis, depression, anxiety, learning difficulties, bereavement, stress, dementia and terminal illness.
It is also used as a personal development tool and to help those who have difficulty in expressing their feelings. For example, some people can find art therapy a good way of expressing their emotions when they have to difficulty expressing themselves verbally. It is also used in other institutions such as prisons and rehabilitation centers.
There is little scientific evidence in support of art therapy from clinical trials but a wealth of case studies, from both Europe and North America, has shown the value of art therapy for a wide range of problems including severe learning difficulties, eating disorders, alcohol and drug addictions and psychotic illness.