Art Therapy

at Health for Life Counseling Grand Rapids

Like talking to a therapist, making art with an art therapist assists with processing, self-discovery, problem-solving, and experiencing emotions in a safe space. The created images serve as records and containers for self-expression, self-discovery, and therapeutic growth.

What Is Art Therapy?

Art therapy is a specific type of therapy that overlaps with counseling or talk therapy but also uses art-making and art exploration in the sessions. You do not have to be an artist to engage in or enjoy art therapy! People of all ages, abilities, and levels of experience can participate in the process. In art therapy, making art is a form of communication and self-expression, just like talking in traditional counseling. Like talking to a therapist, making art with an art therapist assists with processing, self-discovery, problem-solving, and experiencing emotions in a safe space. The created images serve as records and containers for self-expression, self-discovery, and therapeutic growth.

The American Art Therapy Association, the primary organization overseeing the practice of art therapy in the United States, defines art therapy on its website:

“Art therapy is an integrative mental health and human services profession that enriches the lives of individuals, families, and communities through active art-making, creative process, applied psychological theory, and human experience within a psychotherapeutic relationship.”

“Art therapy, facilitated by a professional art therapist, effectively supports personal and relational treatment goals as well as community concerns. Art therapy is used to improve cognitive and sensorimotor functions, foster self-esteem, and self-awareness, cultivate emotional resilience, promote insight, enhance social skills, reduce and resolve conflicts and distress, and advance societal and ecological change.”

Because the images or products created in art therapy are forms of expression and communication in therapy, the rules of confidentiality apply to any artwork you create.

What Do We Use?

Art Therapy can use any kind of materials used to create art, including but not limited to:

  • Paper
  • Markers/Crayons
  • Pencils/Pens/Colored pencils
  • Oil pastels/Chalk pastels
  • Acrylic paint
  • Watercolor paint/Watercolor pencils
  • Clay/Putty/Play-Doh
  • Found Materials/Recycled Materials
  • Scissors/Glue
  • Craft Materials
  • Fabric/Yarn/String/Beads

Art Therapy Processing

Art Therapists use different theoretical frameworks for creating, selecting, and processing art therapy interventions, or activities, with clients. One prominent framework is known as the Expressive Therapies Continuum (ETC). This framework organizes different types of art interventions in alignment with levels of emotional and cognitive processing in the brain. It consists of four levels of increasing complexity:

Kinesthetic/Sensory: uses the basic modalities of senses and physical expression including vision, sound, touch, words, and movement

Perceptual/Affective: uses the dichotomy of perceiving from a more objective space versus feeling or embodying emotions

Cognitive/Symbolic: uses concrete or abstract thought versus symbolic imagery or representation

Creative: synthesizes the other 3 levels for a unified and transformative experience

A qualified art therapist will select interventions and materials to facilitate the level of processing they deem most appropriate for their client’s needs, abilities, and progress in therapy. Sometimes these combinations will feel safe and easy, at other times they will be challenging in one or more ways to facilitate the client’s growth or insight.

Who Is Art Therapy For?

Art therapy is practiced in multiple settings, including private practice, community mental health centers, hospitals, schools, crisis centers, veteran’s clinics, and senior clinics. Art therapy can be practiced with individuals, couples, families, and groups. People of all ages and abilities can participate in art therapy and it is not necessary to have any prior art-making experience! Art therapy can help people going through anxiety, depression, interpersonal conflict, life changes, trauma, grief, and any other experiences which can be addressed in “traditional” therapy.

Who Practices Art Therapy?

Art therapists are masters-level or doctorate-level clinicians who work with a variety of people to address their mental health concerns through the practice of therapeutic art-making. Therapeutic art-making encompasses the use of art materials, the creative process, and the resulting artwork as part of the therapeutic and healing process.

Art therapy can only be practiced by qualified individuals who have met the qualifications set forth by the Art therapy Credentials Board, which necessitates the completion of advanced specific graduate-level education in art therapy and supervised, post-graduate art therapy experience.

There are four credentials which identify current competence in art therapy. The Provisional Registered Art Therapist (ATR-P) has met the established educational standards and is currently practicing art therapy under an approved supervisor, designated as an Art Therapy Certified Supervisor (ATCS). A Registered Art Therapist (ATR) has completed both their post-graduate work and supervised postgraduate experience. An ATR-BC is the highest level credential, as the Board Certified Art Therapist has passed a comprehensive examination and adheres to 100 hours of continuing education in art therapy every five years.

Art Therapy is not:

  • Adult coloring books marketed as art therapy
  • Apps claiming to provide art therapy
  • Art lessons
  • A projective test
  • Zentangles
  • Just drawing pictures with your therapist
  • “Just” arts and crafts
  • “Just for kids”

Art Therapy

Katy Jaramillo

Counseling and Art Therapy for Adults and Teens: Empowerment and Healing from Medical and Neurological Trauma + Existential Concerns

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Grand Rapids, MI

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