WHAT IS ART THERAPY?
"There has never been a culture without art, poetry, music and this must mean, we, as human beings, have a need for art. It must bring value to us as humans." Sally Cuthbert
Art Therapy engages the power of external and internal imagery (the visual world, dreams, memories, metaphor) and the visual arts to support health and wellbeing.
The Creative Arts therapies (art, music, drama, dance & movement) 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.
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.
WHY USE THE ARTS FOR HEALTH?
One of the well-known strengths of Arts Therapy is its capacity to connect with people in ways that go beyond words. Engaging through Art is often more accessible and culturally sensitive than the Western medical model of talking through problems. Engaging in the Arts actually empowers people to develop skills that help them to cope with the challenges of life, like strengthened relationships, connection with community, self-efficacy and hope.
WHERE DO WE WORK?
Arts Therapists work flexibly across a spectrum of responses to Mental Health, including arts engagement for well-being, health promotion activities, prevention, treatment, acute care and recovery. Arts Therapists can work in both clinical and non-clinical settings including community and outdoor environments. We are experienced in working with groups of people, not just individuals. In these ways, Arts Therapy contributes to the health and well-being of whole communities, through engaging and connecting people in shared, enlivening and meaningful creative endeavours.
WHO ARE WE?
Arts Therapists are holistic and adaptable mental health practitioners, many of whom have come to the profession through our own lived experiences of life challenges including grief and loss, trauma, and mental distress. We each have our own lived experiences of how the arts have supported our own well-being, care, healing and recovery. It is through this first-hand understanding that we connect and engage with others who are going through their own struggles. We value self-efficacy and choice for the people we work with, and we are passionate about facilitating opportunities for people to have voices, to be seen and heard, and exercise agency when it comes to managing their own mental health care.
ABOUT THE PROFESSION
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.
EVIDENCE BASED RESEARCH
There is significant research into the validity of arts based therapies to support both physical and emotional health particularly concerning anxiety, depression, cancer, psychotic illness, relational trauma, childhood issues, abuse, and more recently ASD and ADHD.
A recent report from The World Health Organisation (Health Evidence Network Synthesis report 67, 2019) investigated arts based therapies from over 3000 studies and found "a major role for the arts in the prevention of ill health, promotion of health, and management and treatment of illness across the lifespan"
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 above information comes from the following sources:
Australia, New Zealand and Asia Creative Arts Therapy Association website: www.anzacata.org
British Association of Art Therapists website: www.baat.org
ACTivate Arts Campaign, Carla Van Laar - https://carlavanlaar.com/victorian-state-government-agrees-to-fund-arts-therapy-in-schools-success-for-the-activate-arts-therapy-campaign/
Leapin 'Art Therapy and the NDIS' - https://www.leapin.com.au/news/art-therapy-and-the-ndis/