Art As Therapy: An Alternative Treatment

By: Stephanie Kirby

Updated February 11, 2021


When it comes to treating mental health challenges, there are many different forms of treatment available. While most people think of the typical movie scene, someone lying on a couch with a therapist with glasses taking notes in a chair next to them, therapy can look a lot of different ways.

What Are Alternative Treatments?

Alternative treatments are exactly like they sound. They are treatments that can be used to help your mental health challenges that fall outside of the traditional forms of medicine. Traditional forms of therapy include things like psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy.

What Is Art Therapy?

In the simplest explanation, art therapy is the process of creating art as a form of therapy. Therapists that are trained in art therapy help patients work through their emotions, feelings, and situations through the use of art such as painting, drawing, and sculpting.

Art therapy isn't simply just making "art." There is a creative process that the therapist uses to help guide the patient on the right path. The process can be a good way to gain insight into what you are feeling yourself and can help a therapist know what areas to focus on.


Can Any Therapist Use Art Therapy?

Art therapy isn't something that just anyone can do. It's not about the artist ability of you or your therapist. Instead, it's about the insight that you are both able to gain through the process. Therapists that offer art therapy options are specially trained in using these types of materials.

There are several different options that therapists have to learn how to use art therapy in their practice. Some therapists have only studied art therapy, and then there are others that go through the traditional routes to become a therapist such as a doctorate or master's in the field of psychology and then add on special training in art therapy.

When looking for art therapists to work with, see if you can find someone that has the ATR credential with their name. This shows that they have completed the process of registering their services with the National Art Therapy credentials board. Taking this step is a good way for a therapist to show that they focus on this type of alternative treatment.

What's The Advantage Of Art Therapy?

Some people have an easier time talking and sharing their feelings than others do. Some people aren't able to put into words what they are feeling or have experienced. However, a therapist that knows how to use art therapy can help them to draw that information out through the pieces that they create.

Art therapy can help in several ways. It can help you identify feelings that you haven't realized are just below the surface. By working through and completing the process of creating, it can help build your self-esteem. It's also a good way to relieve stress and help fight anxiety and depression. And, art therapy can help you to experience emotional release.

There are times when even trying to find the words just seems like too much. Art therapy allows you to pour out all those feelings in a healthy way without having to express what you are thinking and feeling verbal.

Art therapy can also be offered as group therapy. This can help because you will be working on your piece of art, but it can help you to start to form connections with other people.

Common Questions People Have About Art Therapy

Many people are unfamiliar with alternative forms of therapy which leaves them with a lot of questions. Below are some of the frequently asked questions about art therapy.

Who Can Art Therapy Help?

Above it was touched on a little that art therapy can be helpful for those that have a hard time communicating their feelings. This could be because they have lived through a traumatic experience or because they have a disability that makes it difficult to communicate verbally. It's also helpful for children that may be afraid to talk or just don't know how to say the feelings they have and the things they need to share. It's also great for those that are either unable or don't know how to process through and understand what they 're feeling.


Do I Have To Be Good At Art?

Art therapy is not really about art. It's not about the finished piece of work that you have in the end. It's all about the process and what you experience as you work through it. Therefore, it doesn't matter if you are very artistic or not artistic at all; you can still get the same therapeutic benefits from participating in it.

How Does The Art Therapist Know What My Therapy Artwork Means?

Your therapist is not going to tell you what your artwork means. Instead, they are going to ask you the right questions that get you thinking about the deeper meaning of your work. They know how to direct your thoughts in a way to help you start to process through your emotions based on what you have created in therapy. If you are attending a session with a therapist that tries to 100% decipher your artwork for you, then you need to find a new therapist.

What Type of Art Will I Make?

There is no limit in the art world as to what can be used for art therapy. You may use a pencil and paper, paints, markers, fabric, glitter, clay, crayons, or a combination of things together.

Does Art Therapy Work?

Simply put, yes. If you've been through a traumatic experience, then art can help you sort through the memories and feelings that are associated with that event. This can bring up a lot of powerful emotions and memories that can be difficult to deal with. However, many find the experience less threatening when doing art therapy than when just sitting and talking with a therapist.

What Can I Expect After My Art Therapy Session?

While art therapy might sound like a lot of fun, it's not painted and pours party. You aren't gathering together with friends to have a good time and try to recreate someone else's painting. You are sitting with a therapist and potentially digging up feelings and memories that you usually try to push down or away.

This can be an exhausting experience. When your session is completed there is a good chance that you will feel very tired. You might also be dealing with a lot of emotions still as well. It's probably not the best time to plan for some activity. You will most likely want to be able to go somewhere that you can rest.


How Long Do Sessions Last?

Art therapy sessions are generally just under an hour long. They are the same as most in-person one-on-one therapy sessions.

How Many Times Do I Need To Go?

There is no set number of times that you need to attend art therapy to benefit from it. However, on average, people will attend 6-12 therapy sessions as they work through the process.

How Do I Find Art Therapists Near Me?

You can start your search for an art therapist online. Make sure that you look at both their credentials and experience. You don't want to choose to work with someone that is trying it out just because they enjoy art. You want to find a professional that is trained in art therapy because you want them to be able to help prompt you through the process.

Other forms Of Therapy

While art therapy is great alternative therapy, don't forget that it's best for you to find the therapy that works the best for you. It's great if art therapy can help you get the breakthrough that you were hoping to find. However, if you try art therapy and are still struggling, or if you are looking for a different type of therapy, then make sure you get the help you are after.

You can meet with a therapist for a traditional therapy session in-person. You can also try something like online therapy or teletherapy services. These types of therapy allow you to meet with a therapist without having to leave the comfort of your own house. This can be very helpful for people that either can't leave home or just don't feel comfortable for going to therapy and sitting in front of someone to share their thoughts and feelings with.

The most important thing is not how you decide to get therapy-traditional therapy or alternative therapy-but that you can get the help that you need. Mental health challenges are very treatable. And, while it might take some trial and error, you can find the right combination of treatments that will help you make the most progress.


For more information on art therapy as an alternative treatment for mental health challenges, talk to your general practitioner or your current therapist to see if this is something that could work for you!

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