Art Therapy Interview: Student’s Ask Me Questions

How does Art Therapy help people that have health concerns/issues such as PTSD, or Alzheimer’s?

 I believe the focus would be on stress management and reduction in pathology due to illness. Patients diagnosed with Alzheimer’s are depleting due to plaque forming around brain cells. I do not believe there is a clear linkage between the use of art therapy and the reduction of these protein build-ups. However, I do think that the use of Art Therapy helps sustain the wellness and functionality of patients for a longer duration. 

For instance, I witnessed an art therapist help an older adult create short stories with a variety of art materials. The elderly woman was bedridden, so she used her lap and her bed as a sea and built a boat and small characters who lost their way. By incorporating her space and her stories, the Art Therapist was able to gain more insight into what it was like for the patient to be diagnosed with the disease while increasing the patient’s affect and overall interest in her ability to make art in her unique way. This intervention could have done anything from memory recollection to an increase of safety and emotional expression that may have been repressed. 

Similar to PTSD and Art Therapy, I believe there is a high correlation in the research that supports the use of Art Therapy for PTSD. PTSD treated by Art Therapy is likely to target the amygdala. When trauma occurs, all of the emotions, experiences, and psychological impacts are triggered. A patient must be willing to uncover these areas to overcome or work through the trauma. The directives the AT offers help the lead the client into creation. The aim is to target all areas of the trauma (body, mind, emotions) through art-making. 

What I find most beneficial in work is that the art created is rooted in the person and everything they decide to share at that moment. Usually, the artwork is built form their unconscious and then manifested in the art. People struggling with trauma may need help understanding their emotions or would like help in creating insights that they may have forgotten at the time of the incident. The Art Therapist must be mindful of the space and the possibility of retraumatizing a patient. For example, I conducted a group session, and my clients were creating a mask that described how the world saw them, and then on the inside, they were asked to develop how they saw themselves. One member of the group was sexually assaulted when she was in her 20s (during the time of the group she was 36), and while creating her mask of how the world saw her, she began to cry and walked away from the group. The art could have been anything she wanted, but she created a mask that brought her back to her past trauma and how that assault became her identity. Since I was working in a group, I wanted to be mindful of the other members but also to let her know that there was no pressure to persist through and that her emotions were valid. In a one-on-one session, I would work with her to allow these memories and traumatic experiences to be left in the art and transformed into internal healing. 

Often if I see a client who is overwhelmed with their creation, I offer a mini mandala session. On a small note card, we create small patterns over and over again to relax and get prepared to enter back into our regular lives. 

What are the qualifications of Art Therapy?

To become an Art Therapist, it is required to earn a master’s degree from an AATA-accredited program and then completes supervision/other hour requirements in the field (different for each state). Once the requirements are completed, art therapists can sit for the art therapy credentials board (ATCB) or become registered (ATR). 

Is Art Therapy used just in geriatric patients, or is it a multigenerational field?

Art therapy can be used across a variety of populations.  I have seen it specifically with children due to their low verbal skills. Art Therapy offers them a platform to share emotions, ideas, thoughts, and also provides agency and autonomy over their abilities. Nonetheless, Art Therapy can be used with anyone! The Art Therapist must be mindful of their intentions and experience within each population. It is never a good idea to experiment with new communities if you are not familiar or do not have supervision while doing so. 

What is the history of Art Therapy?

Going way back to the use of cave drawings to communicate or conduct religious ceremonies, art symbolism, or archetypes have been around for several, several years. Art became more therapeutic around the 1940s in Europe/America. In Europe, a man named Adrian Hill as the first to create the name Art Therapy. I believe he was an artist struggling with his form of sickness and used art to help his progression. In America, Margaret Naumburg and Edith Kramer are two key pioneers. They created the wave of art as therapy vs. art in therapy. They focused on using art to help reveal unconscious perceptions (thoughts, feelings, emotions, ideas, suffering, pain, dreams, etc.). From then on, it spread to several hospitals, inpatients, and care facilities focusing on children and adults. The field is relatively new and still growing! 

What are the benefits of Art Therapy?

I believe that art therapy is underrated within its benefits. It’s simply not valued enough. Just like any other therapeutic discipline works to create positive change and reduce pathology, so does art therapy. The art is transformative and genuinely recognizes the needs of the clients. Art Therapy provides an alternative to talking therapy. When working with an Art Therapist, they work as a supportive guide and partner in the client’s journey to self-actualization. What I find most remarkable is that a person could create artwork, leave it for months, and return and notice something they missed or overlooked. The artwork speaks, and it speaks volumes. Trusting the process is the first step.

Here are a few key benefits: 

–    Increase serotonin

–    Confidence 

–   Self-expression

–    Offers to understand 

–    Creativity activation that helps other areas in a person life

–    Symbolism to reduce verbal language 

–    Remove the internal struggling and place it into an object 

–    Large range of materials that could open several doors for clients 

What success story of Art Therapy inspires you the most?

I shared a couple earlier that I still look to now. Success in art therapy is defined by the client and the therapist together. 

What kind of art will you make in Art Therapy?

Art Therapy incorporates a variety of art mediums, forms, concepts, and much more. Anything you could think of art-related may likely be used in art therapy. Some examples are painting, clay work, body art, movement art, charcoal, beading, collage, etc. It is more likely that you will use a medium the art therapist is familiar with using so they can support the process of the client as best as they can. However, that does not mean they will not be open to other materials. Similar to this; the art therapist offers directives that support what the client may be struggling with. 

For example, I offered the mask making directive earlier, and a client used it to process trauma. A scribble drawing can be used to help ease the tension of creating art but also uncover unconscious needs. Mandalas can be helpful when a client needs help with stress reduction or would like to gain control. Sprit dolls are another directive that can be used to discuss the self. Depending on the focus of the session, the directive is geared towards that. I find that different mediums evoke different emotions and feelings. 

Do you need art training or experience to teach Art Therapy?

You don’t need to be an artist to learn art therapy. However, you need to be an Art Therapist to practice Art Therapy (art as therapy). Often people who use the technique in their practice consider themselves Art therapists when they have not been trained and certified to call themselves an Art Therapist. It is a form of misrepresentation, and it hurts the field’s image. Nonetheless, you can use art (in) therapy for the benefit of a client. 

Will the Art Therapist “interpret” the client’s artwork?

I believe not. Art Therapy is more about the process of discovery, as the Art Therapist, you work alongside the client and open space for safety, vulnerability, and personal expression. Interpreting a client’s work may create ideas in their mind that they have not or opinions that do not agree with their process—this is harmful. Art Therapy can connect themes, bring up older work, connect things the client has previously said, or even offer helpful suggestions. As an Art Therapist, bringing yourself into the artwork should be cautionary, and the intention behind it should be thoroughly assessed. 

 Where would you be employed as an Art Therapist?

  • Private Practice
  • Hospitals
  • Inpatient/Outpatient (Residential’s)
  • Shelters
  • Prison/Jail
  • Educational setting
  • Community setting

With Intention, Sarafina

Small rectangle and square cards: Painted with watercolor (blue, green, yellow, white)