7 Art Therapy Myths Busted
Even though art therapy has been an established profession since the 1940s, and the arts have been used for healing and health for the majority of our existance, it’s still not as widely understood as talk therapy. I’d like to debunk some common misconceptions about who can benefit from art therapy and what they can expect.
Myth #1: Art therapy is only for kids.
Art therapy is a powerful form of therapy that combines both visual and verbal tools to help people of any age attain greater mental and physical health and wellbeing. It’s a way of engaging the imagination and sensory centers of the brain in problem solving. No special experience or artistic talent is needed; all you need is your imagination and your ability to choose and respond to line, shape, and color. Even people with visual impairments can benefit from art therapy, as outlined by these amazing folks here. Using artistic media to “visualize” issues and translate your feelings into images can help you see things from a new, bird’s eye perspective. Having done this, you can alter the image, and then think about how to alter your reality.
Myth #2: Art therapy is for people who are developmentally disabled, severely mentally ill, or brain injured and can’t express themselves verbally.
Art therapists have special skills and training in using visual media in counseling, which can be very helpful when working with people whose ability to communicate verbally is compromised. Don’t mistake art therapy for a non-verbal approach, however. While there might be times when less talking is necessary, especially with lower-functioning populations, verbal processing is a very important part of the work in art therapy. Most of the work that I do includes a lot of verbal processing: talking through feelings and seeking solutions together based on the art. I’ll talk more about this in #7.
Myth #3: I can’t draw, I won’t be any good at art therapy.
This is a commonly held misconception. People often think that they need to create visually “accurate” depictions of situations or make “beautiful” art. While some people may use art therapy this way, most art therapy clients may not have done art in years, or even decades. In art therapy, there is almost never a “right” or “wrong” way to create. It doesn’t have to be pretty, and in fact, the more you can let that go, the faster we usually make progress. The art therapist is there to guide you through using visual material to express your feelings, get things off your chest, and look at your situation and problem solve in a new way. Sometimes you will find your images visually pleasing, and transforming pain into beauty is very empowering, but that’s not a prerequisite for art therapy to succeed.
One beginning exercise that I like to use with people who are feeling intimidated by the art is magazine photo collage. I describe this process in detail in this post. Art therapists are very aware of how anxiety producing “making art” can be when you haven’t in years. They will let you know that there is no right or wrong; it’s really just a way to engage different parts of your brain in problem solving.
Myth #4: Art therapy is too “woo-woo” for me.
Myth #5: An art therapist will look at my art and see things I don’t want to reveal.
While art can give us some clues about what you are thinking and feeling, only the artist can ultimately say what its meaning is. An art therapist might help you to ponder different possibilities, or turn your page around to see it from a new angle, but as in talk therapy, you remain the expert on you. Our job is to be a respectful, supportive facilitator of the changes you want to make. Looking at your art, I can’t tell who you are dating, what mistakes you have made in your life, or what you ate for breakfast.
Myth #6: Art therapists are not “real therapists.”
I have a master’s degree. I am licensed as a mental health counselor in MA, and am also a board certified, registered art therapist. Not all art therapists hold counseling licenses, but all art therapists have master’s level training, just like social workers and mental health counselors. There are numerous art therapy training programs in the US and abroad. For information on how to become an art therapist, click here.
Myth #7: An art therapist won’t be able to talk through my problems with me.
As I mentioned in #2, verbal processing is a very important part of art therapy. During our training as art therapists, we learn to generate art therapy exercises tailored to each client. The art therapist focuses both on the client’s process of making art, as well as the product. The art therapist will talk through all of this information with the client. Click to learn more about a typical first art therapy session.
Finally, do not assume that an art therapist never engages in talk therapy. If you find that you have a good match with an art therapist, but feel less pulled to the art, talk to him or her about how you might structure the work in a way that meets your needs. I have some clients who use art every week, others who use it some sessions and not others, and a few who never or only occasionally use art. The goal in art therapy is to tune into you and what will best help you meet your goals.
For more art therapy myths busted, you can also hop over to art therapist, Sara Roizen’s blog, Art Therapy Spot, to see her Top 10 Art Therapy Myths.
Still have questions or doubts about art therapy? Have I missed any myths that you want to address? Please share about it in the comments.
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