Art Therapy

What is Art Therapy?

Art therapy is an aspect of psychotherapy that utilizes art media as its principal mode of communication.  Moreover, art therapy is the therapeutic use of art creation, within a professional relationship, by individuals who are experiencing trauma, illness, obstacles in living, or who seek greater personal improvement.  This may encompass mental health problems, learning or physical difficulties, or life-limiting conditions.

Art therapy, which is a comparatively new therapeutic discipline, first began in approximately the mid-20th Century.  The use of art therapy was seen first in English-speaking and in European areas.  The origins of Art therapy began primarily in art education, the practice of art, and in psychology.  Adrian Hill, an artist who discovered the therapeutic advantages of various art forms while in recovery from tuberculosis, is generally acknowledged as the first person to coincide the term “art therapy” in describing the application and benefits of art.  Around this approximate time frame, Margaret Naumberg, a practicing psychologist in the United States, also began using the term “art therapy” to depict her work and methods.

Art therapy incorporates the facets of human development along with visual art, such as drawing, sculpture, painting, and other art forms, with methods of counseling and psychotherapy.  Through the conception and innovation of art creation and the reflection on art developments, individuals can amplify awareness of self, adapt better coping mechanisms, improve cognitive functions, and find pleasure in art making.  The purpose of art therapy is fundamentally on healing.  Art therapy can be applied to individuals with various disorders diseases.  A typical art therapy session would differ from an art class, as the focus in on the inner experience of the individual, and emphasis is placed on the development of images from within.  Participants are guided by a professional in depicting a personal story, thoughts, or feelings as well as the exploration of products created during a session.

Types of Art Therapy

Types of Art Therapy Include:

  • Painting
  • Creating Mosaics
  • Drawing
  • Clay making
  • Sculpting

Components of Art Therapy

Art based assessments are commonly utilized by therapists and other health professionals as a tool for measuring the emotional and develop conditions of their patients.  Some of these assessments encompassed within art therapy include:

  • The Diagnostic Drawing Series (DDS): A standardized tool for the diagnostic and clinical use.
  • The Mandala Assessment Research Instrument (Mari): Art evaluation that incorporates the use of color and symbols to assess a person’s psychological condition
  • House-Tree-Person (HTP): Art assessment that is used to measure aspects of a person’s personality through interpretation of drawings and responses to questions
  • Road Drawing: Therapeutic intervention in which metaphors are used to create a representation of the participant’s life

Uses of Art Therapy

Art therapy is founded on the premise that the creative act can be healing and curative.  Furthermore, it has been demonstrated to help individuals effectively express hidden emotions, while decreasing stress, anxiety and fear.

Art therapy can be a valuable part of the recovery process for those suffering with eating disorders as it allows patients to express themselves through a healing and creative outlet.  Art therapy can be adapted as a healthier coping mechanism in lieu of destructive and harmful eating disorder behaviors, such as bingeing or purging.  Art therapy can also be effective in aiding a woman or man in working through various body image issues.

In addition to treating eating disorders, art therapy can be a useful tool for chemically addicted individuals (alcohol addiction or substance abuse), emotionally impaired individuals, sex-related trauma, and mood disorders, such as depression, anxiety, and panic attacks.

Last Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on April 1, 2017

Page last updated: April 1, 2017
Published on, Eating Disorder Online Resources