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What is Art Therapy? All You Need to Know!

The world, lately, is trying to understand ‘what is art therapy?’ Various forms of therapy have recently come into the discourse of psychology and psychiatry. Let us explore this discourse and try and answer the question, ‘What is art therapy?’.

1. What is Therapy?

Therapy is a form of counseling by trained psychologists and psychiatrists who work towards better mental health It’s a healing process where individuals with mental illness are treated according to their needs.

For example, if you are diagnosed with OCD, Obsessive Compulsive Behavior, then most of your work and day-to-day activities are hampered due to your obsessive thoughts and the compulsion to do certain behaviors to tackle those thoughts. So a person with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder for hygiene would wash their hands often, even just after touching their plate dining table before they eat. So during counseling, they shall be slowly aided to alter this frequent washing of hands. There is an effort put into changing one’s cognitive framework so that one thinks differently.

art therapy
geralt. Pixabay. Copyright 2022.

Another example would be exposure therapy. When the patient is, say, for example, afraid of lizards and cannot function or perform their day-to-day activities, then during therapy, they will slowly be exposed to lizards to make them get rid of that fear.

In the initial stages, they will first be exposed to pictures of the lizard in visual forms. Then they will slowly be asked to touch the picture of the lizard, and the process escalates gradually until the patient is fully able to get rid of the fear of lizards.

So a medical treatment for changing one’s thoughts and behavior is called therapy.

This therapy can be done in varied forms, even with the help of art. That brings us to the original question, “What is art therapy?”. A lot of people have opted for this form of therapy recently. They feel it works for them and hence look for art therapy options. But what is art therapy? Let us find out.

2. What is Art Therapy?

Art Therapy is an expressive form of therapy that has lately become highlighted in communication. Art therapy existed years and years before it came into the limelight, but it is only receiving validation and recognition lately. It is often difficult to prove any of the social sciences. Though the dimensions are measurable, it often becomes hard to prove as they are subjective. Art therapy being in a similar place took time to acquire authenticity, credibility, and validity.

Art therapy is a form of therapy where art becomes the medium for communication. Both the patient and the therapist express themselves through art and varied art forms. An art therapy session is again conducted only by mental health professionals and not anyone who knows art. These expressive arts therapies work towards human development.

There are varied art therapy techniques which again are conducted only by a registered art therapist. Art therapy uses visual arts and social skills to propagate self-awareness and self-expression.

3. How Can One Become an Art Therapist?

If you now know a little about ‘what is art therapy?’, then let us explore how to become one. To start with, pursue a bachelor’s degree in psychology to lay your foundations to become an art therapist. The next step is getting a master’s degree in art therapy. Once done, explore yourself in varied internships and workplaces and try and acquire a license to do therapy. Several countries ask for a license to practice therapy. Check if the country you live in calls for a license to practice therapy.

You need to be a board-certified art therapist to be a licensed art therapist in your country. Every country has its requirements. These requirements could be practicing in a clinic under supervision for a specified number of hours or interning at a reputed clinic for a certain number of days or hours. The requirements vary, but they are necessary.

You can sketch out your art therapy services and practice art therapy if you have all these requirements covered. There is nothing much required to be a professional art therapist; all you need is knowledge, appropriate degrees, and the right amount of experience.

4. Types of Art Therapy

Art therapy is based on everything around art. Creating art or art-making is the core of art therapy. There is a creative process involved in every session. Art therapists are trained to decipher and interpret communication through art. There are varied types of art therapies that need to be explored after exploring the fundamental question of ‘What is art therapy?

1. What is Art Therapy in Collage Making?

Collage therapy in art therapy is simply forming a collage to express your thoughts. Collage is putting bits of elements together to form an art, to create meaning. Emotions and opinions are expressed through collage in these therapy sessions.

ractapopulous. Pixabay. Copyright 2023.

Collage therapy is known to reduce stress, and it also allows the client to express the most difficult thoughts. Most clients could also be introverted and may not enjoy speaking. However, this doesn’t mean they don’t want to provide help. Communication is key in therapy, and a client must communicate for any progress to happen. However, speaking is not the only form of communication. Different forms of communication can be administered to make progress. Collage making is one of them.

Clients choose the picture that represents their thoughts during collage making that helps the therapist understand the client’s mental health and gives the therapist content or information to manage behavior and promote well being of the client.

The advantage of collage therapy is that it can be applied to almost all ages, from children to adults. This form of art is not the hardest. Usually, the difficulty that comes with other art forms is that people are scared to draw as they fear judgment. However, in collage therapy, this fear is almost eliminated as the task is simple and requires very little artistic skills to complete it.

2. What is Art Therapy in Photography?

Phototherapy is a form of therapy where photographs are used to allow the client to express themselves. The photographs here act as a stimulus or a catalyst to make the subject think, analyze, and communicate. The photographs used in these counseling sessions could be personal photos of the client or family photos, or they could also be generic photos that the therapist chooses to use to evoke certain ideas or thoughts on the subject.

DariuszSankowski. Pixabay. Copyright 2023.

It is very important to note that art therapy could work differently for different people. In answering “What is art therapy?”, we must note while one form of art therapy works for someone, it may fail for another person. So clearly, whether art therapy works for a subject is based on trial and error of different art therapies.

The above information will give you a general understanding of ‘what is art therapy?’ in photography. However, you need to explore more to understand it in depth.

3. What is Art Therapy in Finger Painting?

Just as with any other forms of art mentioned above, finger painting is used as a medium to stimulate communication on the subject. Most times, the art outcomes are interpreted by the therapist. This interpretation is made very carefully after considering the history, current symptoms, and the context in which the art was drawn.

An interesting example would be that of a novel named ‘The Silent Patient’, written by Alex Michaelides. In this interesting book, the protagonist, a painter, kills her husband ruthlessly out of the blue moon, or perhaps, everyone believes the protagonist did so because as the police entered the crime scene, the protagonist had a gun near her, and her fingerprints were everywhere. This is where therapy steps in.
Once the murder occurred, the protagonist stopped speaking. She did not answer any questions, nor did she even try to defend herself. Everyone got confused when she took out her canvas and painted something and named it after a Greek myth. This was her only communication. The therapist in the novel uses this painting alone to treat her, which eventually also opens up the cause of the murder and the murderer. A patient who remained silent for endless years only spoke through paintings, and the therapist used it as a medium to understand what she was trying to communicate.

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PublicDomainPictures. Pixabay. Copyright 2023.

So different people express themselves in different ways. The power of art must not be taken lightly. Yes, it becomes easier when the person communicates about their needs upfront and how they feel. If all of these needs to be done vis a subjective medium, things get hard, but they aren’t impossible. One only needs to be well-trained, empathetic, and unbiased while dealing with this.

4. What is Art Therapy in Writing?

Writing is an exceptionally powerful medium of expression. Writing is also a form of art. It may be through poetry, rap, or even simply just noting down your thoughts. It has been proven through varied studies that writing can potentially help an individual come out of depression or anxiety, for that matter. It helps them channel their thoughts and gives them a medium to communicate.

school work 851328 1920
mozlase. Pixabay. Copyright 2023

Oral mode is not the only form of communication that exists. There are varied mediums that can be explored. If we look at the history of mankind, we never started communicating with words alone. We used signs, sounds, sculptures, and cave paintings, and these forms were the only forms through which people communicated. So information can be passed in varied mediums; it only needs a willing mind to decode and understand it, which the therapists are willing and trained to do.
The above information will give you a general understanding of ‘what is art therapy?’ in writing. However, you need to explore more to understand it in depth.

5. What is Art Therapy in Music?

Music can become a very integral part of conducting art therapy. It refers to the use of music to enhance mental health. It enables some individuals to express themselves better with music as a medium. Hence music is openly used as an art therapy tool to heal and improve patients’ mental health.

What is art therapy
pexels. Pixabay. Copyright 2023.

The type of music used plays a great role in how a registered art therapist can bring improvements to the patient. One must be careful with the choice of music because the wrong choice can trigger unnecessary symptoms that may complicate the treatment. Hence, before opting to choose music for such creative techniques, one must conduct a full analysis of the patient and make an informed choice of which music to choose.

You do not want to go wrong here. Good research, mindfulness, and a sensitive approach can certainly bring the difference one is looking for.

6. What is Art Therapy in Dance?

Dance, a form of art, can be blended into art therapy. To understand what is art therapy in dance, one must first understand dance in its purest form. Dance therapy can be seen as movement therapy, where the movements of the dance are used as a medium to express emotions. This can improve a patient’s emotional well being promote mental health conditions by improving their symptoms. This creative expression or artistic expression can prove a good coping skill.

If your patient has a history of art or dancing specifically, then you may go ahead with this therapy after a few basic assessments. Kindly make a note that although your patient may have a passion for art, art therapy may not work for them.

Adinavoicu. Pixabay. Copyright 202.

As explored earlier, it is a trial and error method, but the only difference is that you conduct these trials with good research, assessments, and analysis thoroughly before administering anything to the patient.

There are many mental health problems, and dance therapy might not work for all. However, post-analysis, if it seems fit, the therapist may continue with this practice.

All art therapists must know that not all forms of art therapy would work for all patients, irrespective of how similar they are. Many factors determine what works for the patient and what doesn’t. It could be several external factors such as background, family history, trauma history, environmental conditions, and so many other reasons which can lead to correlations.

The best way is to explore and research and start your trial methods. You may continue these trial methods for a while, and if your analysis shows an improvement or any sign of a positive result, then you may continue with the assessment However, if you see no improvement, you might need to adapt your methods or use a different form of art therapy to make the difference. Also, note that art therapy cannot be forced onto the patient. If they’re not responding to art therapy at all, then it lies in your hand to understand this critically and suggest other forms of therapy.

There are varied forms of therapy that help the patient. The goal here is not to make art therapy work but to heal the patient. Suggest other therapies like cognitive therapy, behavioral therapy, talk therapy, or other such therapies if this form of therapy is not working for your patient by any means. It is, however, critical to be noted that this must be given a chance. If there is reluctance from the patient’s side to take art in therapy, then it is probably not that the therapy doesn’t suit them. It is simply that the patient is unwilling to take it up. Hence, be conscious of how your patient is responding and also know why your patient is responding in the way they are.

There are many wellness centers or art therapists around the world and in your own country who can make a considerable amount of difference in your mental health condition through the creative use of art. The world needs more awareness son art therapists so that trust can be built.

Any treatment first needs to be trusted. Hence it is critical that the patients or the family members first understand the therapy and know the therapy. Extensive awareness is highly required for this form of treatment. More voices need to arise and help those in trouble.


With this article, you now have a good knowledge of “what is art therapy?“. Do note that there more forms of art therapy that are still not popular and are being explored slowly as we accept therapy as a form of treatment. This discourse is open, and new updates are coming in frequently. It blends many discourses at times and hence gives the potential to explore in a border field too. Art therapy has saved many from severe disorders and can pave the path for others with awareness and more concrete research on the same.

Also read:

Expressive Personality Type


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