Art Therapy

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How Art Therapy Can Help

Art therapy is a form of expressive therapy that uses your own creative process of making art to improve your physical, mental and emotional well-being. Through creating art and reflecting on the art process, you can increase awareness of your feelings, cope better with symptoms, enhance cognitive abilities and enjoy the life-affirming pleasures of creating art.


One of the key differences between art therapy and other forms of communication is that most other forms rely on the use of words or language as a means of communication. You may find that as a result of your brain tumor or your treatment, you experience some difficulty with speech and language. Or it may be that you feel uncomfortable with conventional psychotherapy or find it hard to give voice to the complex feelings with which you are struggling.


In all these situations, art therapy uses painting, drawing, photography, sculpture, or other visual arts to help you better express your emotions. Your art therapist will connect the art image to your inner experiences and help you make sense of them. He or she can help you explore feelings you may not fully understand yet.


Is Art Therapy Right for You?

Perhaps you believe that you are not talented enough to make use of art therapy. In reality, you do not have to be a Picasso or Monet to enjoy and benefit from art therapy. Though it may seem different and unnatural at first, you may be surprised at how quickly it becomes second nature to you. With the support of an art therapist you should gradually – perhaps even immediately – begin to feel comfortable with this new form of self-expression.


What to Expect in an Art Therapy Session

You will attend sessions in a studio outfitted for a variety of activities, such as painting, drawing, sculpture and perhaps photography. You may come individually or join a group, and you might even work on group activities.


The art therapist may begin with some form of relaxation exercise and then discuss what you would like to accomplish with your art. You will be encouraged to focus on the meaning of your work either during the session or at the end.


Here are a few examples of projects you may choose to undertake:

  • Self-portrait. You can display how you are currently viewing yourself. Before you begin, your art therapist might ask you specific questions, such as "How do you think others see you?" or "What are your best qualities?"
  • Abstract art. You may use a variety of shapes, colors or textures. Anything create is legitimate and can offer surprising insights into how you are feeling.
  • Collages. You may gather photos from your past, images you have just taken or cutouts from magazines and assemble them on paper. Through this exercise, you can reflect on why you chose those particular images and what they mean to you.

Insurance Coverage for Art Therapy

Very few private insurers cover art therapy, nor does Medicare. In certain states, Medicaid may cover it. However, if your private health plan reimburses for out-of-network services, you might be able obtain coverage for art therapy as a behavioral health or mental health service. If you cannot get insurance coverage, you may be able to negotiate a reasonable fee with an art therapist.


Qualifications for Art Therapists

Qualified art therapists are formally trained in both therapy and art. They have studied art and mastered psychology and human development, with the goal of supporting your unique creativity. As a result, they are uniquely trained to pick up on nonverbal symbols and metaphors that are often expressed through art and the creative process, concepts that are challenging to express with words.


Art therapists typically earn a master's degree and have to complete a real-life art therapy practicum before graduation. The Art Therapy Credentials Board awards three kinds of credentials: registered art therapist, board certified art therapist and art therapy certified supervisor.

Related Resources

American Art Therapy Association

American Art Therapy Association

Helping individuals heal through art therapy.

The Arts & Healing Network

The Arts & Healing Network

An online resource for anyone interested in the healing potential of art.