The Art of Healing

In the early twentieth century, psychiatrists became interested in the artwork created by their patients with mental illness.
At around the same time, educators were discovering that children's art expressions reflected developmental, emotional, and cognitive growth.

By mid-century, hospitals, clinics, and rehabilitation centers increasingly began to include art therapy programs along with traditional “talk therapies,” underscoring the recognition that the creative process of art making enhanced recovery, health, and wellness.

Currently, the field has gained attention in throughout the United States.

How Does It Work?

Art therapy integrates the fields of human development, visual art (drawing, painting, sculpture, and other art forms), and the creative process with models of counseling and psychotherapy. It has been used with children, adolescents, adults, older adults, groups, and families to assess and treat a wide variety of conditions. Art therapy programs are found in settings including hospitals, clinics, public and community agencies, wellness centers, educational institutions, businesses, and private practices.

Research in the field confirms that the creative process involved in artistic self-expression helps people to become more physically, mentally, and emotionally healthy and functional. It may assist in someone resolving conflicts or developing interpersonal skills. People have also used art therapy to cope with stress, handle life adjustments, and achieve insight.

Meet the Therapists Art therapists

Are professionals who hold a master or doctorate degree in art therapy or in a related field. They are knowledgeable about human development, psychological theories, clinical practice, spiritual, multicultural and artistic traditions, and the healing potential of art. Art therapists are skilled in the application of a variety of art modalities for assessment and treatment. These professionals are nationally credentialed by the Art Therapy Credentials Board (ATCB) and can become licensed in all states, under various titles, depending upon their individual qualifications. The American Art Therapy Association serves its members and the general public by providing standards of professional competence and developing and promoting knowledge about the field of art therapy. The Art Therapy Credentials Board, Inc., an independent organization, grants art therapy credentials based on educational attainment.

Art Therapy, Defined

It is the therapeutic use of art making, within a professional relationship, by people who experience illness, trauma, or challenges and by people who seek personal development. Through creating art and reflecting on the art products and processes, people can increase awareness of self and others; cope with symptoms, stress, and traumatic experiences; enhance cognitive abilities; and enjoy the life-affirming pleasures of making art.

Who Has It Helped?

People have used art therapy for help coping with addictions or post-traumatic stress, among many other reasons. For example, one case study finds that art therapy was a useful intervention at school for a 5-year-old experiencing sensory integration difficulty (sometimes seen in children on the Asperger’s spectrum). Another study shows that older adults with Parkinson’s disease benefited from therapeutic work with clay.