Art therapy is a form of expressive therapy that combines psychotherapy and art making. You could see an art therapist for the same reasons that you would seek out a regular therapist; maybe you have experienced something traumatic, maybe you are suffering from anxiety or depression, maybe you need help coping with change, loss or letting go of the past, or maybe you want to get to know yourself better.
Art therapy works in several different ways. First, just the act of being creative is rewarding. Engaging in creative activity reduces stress and anxiety, lowers blood pressure, and increases feelings of wellbeing. Second, engaging in art therapy allows more parts of our brains to be involved in solving the problem at hand. The part of our brain that processes our emotions and memories is not the same part of the brain that processes language. That is why sometimes you can talk and talk about what is bothering you, but nothing seems to change. The part of our brain that processes emotions and memories thinks in colors, images, and feelings. When you make art in art therapy you are communicating directly to this part of your brain.
A common misconception is that you have to be good at art to use art therapy. I frequently hear people say “I can’t do art therapy because I’m not artistic!”. For those of you who don’t identify as artistic, you will be happy to know that art therapy is not about making a ‘good’ piece of art. It is about the experience. It is about exploring, experimenting, and experiencing the art materials, and about discussing your art with the art therapist. It is not an art class. You will not be judged on ‘good’ or ‘bad’ technique. Some people think that the art therapist will try to interpret their art. This is also not part of art therapy. The art therapist’s job is to help you decide what the meaning of your art is to you.