Art therapy involves using art forms such as drawing, painting, collage, sculpture
materials and more in “directives” which assist the client in bringing to light unexpressed feelings, thoughts and connections to inner issues.

This material may then be integrated into the talk therapy session. No artistic skills are necessary! It is the content that matters.

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Art Therapy – Origins and Contemporary Uses

Art Therapy dates back some 40,000 years, to the oldest cave painting found in the El Castillo cave in Cantabria, Spain. Similar examples of early art therapy can be found in the more well-known drawings of animals in the caves at Lascaux in France where the drawings are believed to be 20,000 years old. Though researchers are uncertain as to the exact purpose of the cave drawings, it has been theorized that they were likely used as part of religious ceremonies or to reach out to others in the area.

Moving forward a few thousand millenia, art became an instrument for self-expression and symbolism. However, it wasn’t until the 1940′s that the therapeutic use of art was defined and developed into a distinct discipline. The discipline arose independently in America and Europe.

Most art therapy programs are designed to, figuratively speaking, get in people’s heads. In addition to the art itself, people in the field are trained in human development, psychological theories, counseling, and other related disciplines that assist them in assessing their patients and developing effective treatments for them.

While art therapy started in mental health institutions, the therapists can be found in a variety of settings including:

  • Medical and psychiatric hospitals and clinics
  • Outpatient treatment facilities
  • Schools including colleges and universities
  • Shelters
  • Correctional institutions
  • Nursing homes
  • Halfway houses
  • Residential treatment facilities
  • Private practice

People in the field are just as likely to work as part of a team of professionals that includes physicians, nurses, rehabilitation counselors, social workers, and teachers as they are to work alone.

On a more personal, individual level, Art therapy can be and is used in family counseling, bereavement counseling, treatment of behavioral disorders in children, treatment of mental and physical disabilities, drug and alcohol rehab, stress management programs, and many other areas where the healing capabilities of art can improve the patient’s condition.