Although you might associate art therapy with children and teenagers, adults can benefit greatly as well.
To begin, art therapy is not about your skill as an artist (or lack thereof) and it is not simply playing with art materials to de-stress (you may be thinking about adult coloring books). Rather, art therapy is a tool to be used in combination with talk therapy that can help you to unearth deeper meaning in your current problems. When words are not enough, art can give you another form of expression.
Have you ever found yourself omitting information or thinking that what you want to say might not be well received by the person (or therapist) you are talking to? Perhaps what you want to say causes you a lot of unwanted feelings such as shame, inadequacy, embarrassment, or guilt. Exploring tough issues through art expression can provide you with a bit more emotional distance, something we all need once in a while. Utilizing art therapy is a lot less invasive and can provide you with a safe outlet for topics you might not feel comfortable to talk about.
With the use of art therapy directives you have the ability to create visual representations of your problems. This can feel more tangible because you can see the finished artwork, touch it, and respond to it. It can also shed light on new perspectives that you may not have considered or noticed before. If you are a visual learner, art therapy may be a good fit for you!
Many people believe that during an art therapy session, the client creates the artwork and the art therapist interprets the meaning of the image. This is very far from the truth. You are the only one who can truly interpret the meaning because you are the one who knows what everything represents. The symbolism and metaphors are yours and yours alone, which makes you the expert of your artwork. The role of the art therapist is to ask you questions that will help you to interpret the finished work and to challenge you to think about it from a different angle.
Depending on your goals for therapy, your art therapist will tailor the art directives to your personal needs. This is another reason why art therapy is so unique, there are many different art mediums that can be used to explore your issues and some art mediums are better than others to address a problem.
You might be thinking that art therapy isn’t for you because your art abilities only extend as far as stick figures, and if that’s the case, that’s okay! The art therapist will guide you through the process and along the way will teach you how to use the art materials. If you are curious and something within is urging you to give it a try, go for it! You might be pleasantly surprised.
Carly Patterson, ATR-BC, LAC