There is a reason for the saying: “A picture paints a thousand words.” Especially with trauma and loss, words often fall short. Images are the language of our body, spirit, and emotions. In our development as a species and as infants to adults, we have communicated in images before language. Images and sensory experiences come to us before we form words for experiences, only most of us aren’t aware of these and look to words to make sense of things. Art therapy is the practice of using image making to access, express, and transform one’s experience on a deeper level. It isn’t about being an “artist”, but rather, learning to use image-making and other creative, symbolic expressions for inner-exploration, understanding, and guidance. Once images are accessed, reflection, sharing, and words help integrate and apply the new knowledge.
The use of Art Therapy with families provides a vehicle to activate and shift family dynamics by using art experiences that metaphorically facilitate new perspectives and change. In groups, Art Therapy can encourage both individual expression and a connection among members. When complex emotions are safely felt and expressed, the congruence between thoughts and feelings increases. The incongruence between these is often the culprit of stress. Medical Art Therapy helps patients with pain management, stress, understanding what is happening in their body, and the expression of emotional and spiritual issues that arise from illness or disability.
The American Art Therapy Association’s definition of Art Therapy is as follows: “Art therapy is a mental health profession that uses the creative process of art making to improve and enhance physical, mental and emotional well-being. The creative process involved in artistic self- expression helps people resolve conflicts and problems, develop interpersonal skills, reduce stress, and increase self-esteem and self-awareness. Art therapists are master’s-level professionals who hold degrees in art therapy and/or a related field. The educational requirements art therapists must fulfill include coursework in theories of art therapy, counseling, and psychotherapy; individual, group, and family therapy; human and creative development; assessment and evaluation; multicultural issues; research methods; ethics and standards of practice; and practicum experience in clinical and community settings. Art therapists are also trained in applying a variety of art modalities as part of assessment and treatment, including drawing, painting, sculpture, and other visual media.”