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Jonathan Golding, Ph.D. and Anne Lippert, PhD
Jonathan Golding, Ph.D. and Anne Lippert, PhD

Art Therapy

Interested in a "hands on" approach to therapy?

Mother and Child by Michael Olivares/
Source: Mother and Child by Michael Olivares/

When I advise individuals about careers in psychology, the vast majority of them are looking for a career involving mental health issues. A surprisingly large number of people inquire about a career in art therapy. This type of therapy (also called creative arts therapy or expressive arts therapy) is to be contrasted with most other types of therapy in that the means of communication with a client is nonverbal. The nonverbal aspect of art therapy is seen as critical in helping those individuals who cannot communicate verbally for some reason. In this way art therapy uses art and the creative process to facilitate a person’s mental health. A more complete definition of art therapy is provided by the American Art Therapy Association. Art therapy is an integrative mental health profession that combines knowledge and understanding of human development and psychological theories and techniques with visual arts and the creative process to provide a unique approach for helping clients improve psychological health, cognitive abilities, and sensory-motor functions. Art therapists use art media, and often the verbal processing of produced imagery, to help people resolve conflicts and problems, develop interpersonal skills, manage behavior, reduce stress, increase self-esteem and self-awareness, and achieve insight. Please note that this website is an amazing resource for many topics related to the field of art therapy—the association has more than 5,000 members.

Source: VOA/

There are many ways that a therapist can use art therapy with their client. An individual can draw a picture of an event or an emotion. Also, more than one person can be involved in the art project, such as having a family draw a picture together. In these examples, a therapist observes the finished piece; therapists are trained to interpret the nonverbal symbols that are expressed in the art. In addition, in the case of multiple individuals, can observe how the group interacted as they worked together. Click here to view an interesting site about various art therapy exercises. The art produced in art therapy can vary a great deal: paintings, drawings, photographs, sculptures are all examples of artistic expression. Finally, it is very important to point out that an art therapist’s clients do not have to be an artist in order to gain the benefits of this type of therapy. As stated in an American Psychological Association about art therapy (see URL below) “…the goal is not necessarily to create an art masterpiece, it is to express yourself.”

If you are interested in a career as an art therapist you must first keep in mind that these therapists are trained in both art and therapy. Thus, it is important to distinguish between someone who is an art therapist versus a psychologist who uses some art when treating a client. There are specific graduate programs that focus on art therapy. One website to locate these programs may be found here.

If you are not clear on how to proceed with your graduate education in Psychology dealing with mental health issues, check out my website on careers in Psychology. Also, keep in mind that there are a number of other resources that can help you as you move forward in your career as an art therapist. These include:

1) An Art Therapy blog

2) American Psychological Association Division 32 (Society for Humanistic Psychology)

3) An article on art therapy in the American Psychological Association Monitor

4) A detailed description of art therapy on Wikipedia

Michael Olivares/
Source: Michael Olivares/

To conclude, if you have a background in art and want to work in the field of mental health, it is worth your time to check out information about being an art therapist. I think you will find it a rewarding career path.

Please note that the comments of Dr. Golding and the others who post on this blog express their own opinion and not that of the University of Kentucky.

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About the Author
Jonathan Golding, Ph.D. and Anne Lippert, PhD

Jonathan Golding, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology at the University of Kentucky. Anne Lippert, Ph.D., is a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Kentucky.