WHAT IS ART THERAPY?

Art Therapy is an allied health profession. An art therapist uses a combination of art making and psychotherapy skills to help people improve their health and wellbeing. 

"The creative arts therapies are based on the idea that creativity enhances the well-being of all people and is a natural aspect of all cultures and human experience. It is an experiential psychotherapeutic approach utilising many creative modalities within a therapeutic relationship with a trained therapist. It is holistic – attending to emotional, cognitive, physical and spiritual well-being – and aligns well with indigenous models of health and well-being. 

Practitioners calling themselves art therapists have been trained to work therapeutically using the visual arts, including drawing, painting, and sculpture.

The profession has been well established and recognised in many countries such as the UK, the USA and Europe since the 1940s. Art therapy has been recognised and regulated around the world by organisations such as the British Association of Art Therapists, the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) and the American Art Therapy Association.

As an emergent profession in Australia, New Zealand and Asia, the profession gained classification by the Australian and New Zealand Classification of Occupations in 2007. Since then the profession and its diversity has grown exponentially, due in part to the increase in evidence and practice-based research in the field and the greater profile of the benefits of the arts in health. 

The creative arts therapies use creative processes to help clients explore and express unconscious material that is often difficult to articulate in words. These methods are innovative, participatory and practical: they provide a supportive space for participants to ‘try on’ and practise new behaviours, and this can be more effective than merely talking about change. Creativity harnesses the imagination and a sense of play. This can help those who have limited choices in their life to use the safe space of the therapeutic environment to learn to tolerate the uncertainty of the unknown, and to become more comfortable to be able to improvise and open up new possibilities in their lives. A key feature of the creative arts therapies is that the processes are often pleasurable. This means that using the arts we are more likely to practice new patterns of more healthy behaviour. The activities practiced in this treatment model can thus provide new hobbies and interests which are vital for ongoing self-support. 

Contemporary neurobiological research into trauma suggests that trauma has a powerful physical component and thus the first step in addressing trauma should attend to embodied trauma responses. Because the creative arts therapies are based on body awareness they can effectively address trauma and emotional and physical dysregulation. Creative arts therapies can increase resilience by improving the sense of agency and self-understanding through the ability to express feelings symbolically. This can give new perspectives on oneself and on one’s world view, which is essential in the recovery process. 

The creative arts therapies can be practised with individual clients, families and groups. Group work is cost effective and also may counter loneliness and isolation; give opportunities to practise social skills and relationship building in a supportive environment; and can facilitate sense of participation, belonging and community. Creativity can connect us with a sense of meaning and also a means of communicating this to others. This approach can provide soothing and satisfying activities that can counter boredom and lack of engagement and provide the experience of safety, empowerment and the relief of symptoms of anxiety and/or depression through symbolic expression. "

From ANZACATA www.anzacata.org

Also go to the British Association of Art Therapists www.baat.org

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