In general, art therapy is defined as a clinical psychotherapy treatment which uses art materials as part of the process. Sometimes simple art media such as pencils and markers are used. Other times, paint or clay can be used. It depends on the client, the setting and the phase of the therapy.
Art therapy is not about making pretty pictures. Whatever you make is the right thing, and the more honest and true to your feelings or thoughts, the better. It can be ugly, messy, minimal, simple, silly, awkward, childlike, contradictory or complex. Art therapists are so committed to making it safe to honestly express, they tend to encourage leaving the art in the office, so that it remains a tool of authentic self-expression, rather than an object meant to be observed or appreciated by others. It may in fact be “beautiful” (whatever that means) to the maker, or even to observers, but this is not the point of the process. The process is designed to allow all of who you are–emotions, conflicts, relational dynamics, identities–to be expressed. We use the art after the expressive process as a reflective tool for developing understandings about what needed to be expressed, not as something to idealize and place on display.
Art therapy is a flexible modality that I adapt to the needs of my client. It is great for all ages and for the treatment of most mental health issues. It is used in individual, family, couples and group therapy; in hospitals, clinics, private therapy offices, schools, community outreach programs, disaster response efforts and so forth. Obviously, it is extremely useful for non-verbal clients and for kids who, through the art, can communicate volumes in the absence or due to limitations of language. But it is effective with all ages and populations.
When you hear the words “art therapy”, you might assume that it is not for you. And it may or may not be appropriate or helpful for you. This is something that we will discuss and determine together. Regardless of whether it is suitable for you, it is a highly utilized, powerful treatment modality useful for many people from all backgrounds.
If you are still curious and want to take a look at what people around the world have said about art therapy, check out this downloadable paper published by the International Art Therapy Association: What is Art Therapy?