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Dean Olsher LCAT
Dean Olsher LCAT

Six Things to Know About the Creative Arts Therapies

What the creative arts therapies are—and what they are not.

March is when we observe National Creative Arts Therapies week. What are the creative arts therapies? I’m glad you asked.

1. Creative arts therapy is not synonymous with art therapy.

The English language is rich and beautiful. And ambiguous. We use art to mean all kinds of things. In its more restrictive sense, the word refers to the visual arts: painting, drawing, sculpture, and so on. But the creative arts encompass so much more. Just think about it—there were nine muses in ancient Greek culture.

Public domain
Baldassare Peruzzi, Dance of Apollo and the Muses
Source: Public domain

2. There are six disciplines represented by the National Coalition of Creative Arts Therapies Associations.

They are:

3. When people talk about the expressive therapies, they’re talking about the same thing.

I still prefer the term creative arts therapies. Expression is about communicating something you have to say. Creativity is a process of discovery about the self.

4. We are therapists, not teachers.

People are skittish about therapy. Perhaps they feel they are lessening stigma by calling us teachers. But creative arts therapists are not trying to make you a better painter or singer. The goals of therapy are, well, therapeutic. For example, in neurologic rehabilitation, music therapy is used to help people learn how to speak again after a stroke. The goals of the creative arts therapies are as varied as the settings in which they are practiced.

5. Many (but not all) creative arts therapists practice psychotherapy.

Creative arts therapists are often licensed as mental health counselors. New York, where I practice, is unique among the states in that Licensed Creative Arts Therapists (LCATs) are mental health practitioners in the same category as marriage and family therapists, mental health counselors, and psychoanalysts.

6. The creative arts therapies are more different than they are similar to one another.

I think it is a mistake to lump the creative arts therapies together as if they were interchangeable. Music therapists such as myself create work that unfolds in time. By contrast, art therapists work in a medium that is spatial. As we work to better understand the mechanisms that make the creative arts therapeutic, I believe these differences, which may seem superficial, will turn out to be more significant than we ever thought possible.

About the Author
Dean Olsher LCAT

Dean Olsher is a licensed creative arts psychotherapist in New York City.

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