Art Therapy

What Is Art Therapy?

Art therapy is the use of creative techniques such as drawing, painting, collage, coloring, or sculpting to express yourself artistically and help you examine the psychological and emotional undertones in your art. With the guidance of a credentialed art therapist, the nonverbal messages, symbols, and metaphors often found in these art forms can be used to help you better understand your feelings and behavior so you can move on to resolve deeper issues.

In Practice

Art therapy helps children, adolescents, and adults explore their emotions, improve self-esteem, manage addictions, relieve stress, improve symptoms of anxiety and depression, and cope with a physical illness or disability. Art therapists work with individuals, couples, and groups in a variety of settings, including private counseling, hospitals, wellness centers, correctional institutions, senior centers and other community organizations. No artistic talent is necessary for art therapy to succeed because the therapeutic process is not about the artistic value of your work, but rather about finding associations between the creative choices you make and your inner life. The artwork can be used as a springboard for reawakening memories and telling stories that may reveal messages and beliefs from your unconscious mind.

What to Expect

Like any form of therapy, your first session will consist of talking to the therapist about why you want to find help and learning what the therapist has to offer. Together, you will come up with a treatment plan that involves creating some form of artwork. Once you begin creating, the therapist may, at times, simply observe your process as you work, without interference or judgment. As you are working, or when you are finished with a piece of artwork, the therapist will ask you questions along the lines of how you feel about the artistic process, what was easy or difficult about creating your artwork, and any thoughts or memories you had while you were working. Generally, the therapist will ask about your experience and feelings, before providing their observations.

How It Works

Art therapy is founded on the belief that self-expression through artistic creation has therapeutic value for those who are healing or seeking deeper understanding of themselves and their personalities. According to the American Art Therapy Association, art therapists are trained to understand the roles that color, texture and various art media can play in the therapeutic process and how these tools can help reveal one’s thoughts, feelings, and psychological disposition. Art therapy integrates psychotherapy and some form of visual arts as a specific, stand-alone form of therapy, and it is also used in combination with other types of therapy.

What to Look for in an Art Therapist

An art therapist has the minimum of a master’s degree, generally from an integrated program in psychotherapy and visual arts at an educational institution accredited by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). The initials ATR after a therapist’s name means they are registered with the Art Therapy Credentials Board (ATCB). The initials ATR-BC means the therapist is not only registered but has passed an examination to become board-certified by the ATCB.


American Art Association website accessed December 20, 2016.

American Art Therapy Association Masters Education Standards June 30, 2007.

Slayton SC, D’Archer J, Kaplan F. Outcome studies on the efficacy of art therapy: a review of findings. Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association. 22 April 2011; 27(3): 108-118.