Art Therapy

Art Therapy Interview: Students Ask Me Questions

The work created in art therapy is rooted in the person and everything they decide to share at that moment.

Usually, the artwork is built from 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 created a mask that described how the world saw them, and then on the inside, they were asked to develop how they saw themselves. One group member 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 working in a group, I wanted to be mindful of the other members and let her know that there was no pressure to persist 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 overwhelmed with their creation, I offer a mini mandala session. On a small note card, we create small patterns repeatedly to relax and prepare to enter into our regular lives. 

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

 I believe the focus would be on stress management and reduced 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 think that the use of Art Therapy helps sustain the wellness and functionality of patients for a longer duration. 

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. All emotions, experiences, and psychological impacts are triggered when trauma occurs. Patients must be willing to uncover these areas to overcome or work through the trauma. The directives the AT offers help lead the client into creation. The aim is to target all areas of the trauma (body, mind, emotions) through art-making. 

For instance, I witnessed an art therapist help an older adult create short stories with various art materials. The elderly woman was bedridden, so she used her lap and 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 gained 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 increased safety and emotional expression that may have been repressed. 

Art therapy is a modality that can help individuals of all ages create meaning and achieve insight, find relief from overwhelming emotions or trauma, resolve conflicts and problems, enrich daily life, and achieve an in- creased sense of well-being. 

Cathy Malchiodi
art therapy
What is Art Therapy?

What are the qualifications for Art Therapy?

To become an Art Therapist, it is required to earn a master’s degree from an AATA-accredited program and then complete 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 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, and thoughts and provides agency and autonomy over their abilities. Nonetheless, Art Therapy can be used by anyone! Art therapists 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. 

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 years. Art became more therapeutic around the 1940s in Europe/America. In Europe, a man named Adrian Hill was 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 in 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.

Key Benefits

  • Increase serotonin
  • Confidence 
  • Self-expression
  • Offers to understand 
  • Creativity activation helps other areas in a person’s life
  • Symbolism to reduce verbal language 
  • Remove the internal struggling and place it into an object 
  • An extensive range of materials could open several doors for clients 

What success story 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?

The practice 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, so they can support the client’s process as best as they can. However, that does not mean they will not be open to other materials. Similarly, 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. Spirit dolls are another directive that can be used to discuss the self. Depending on the session’s focus, 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 the practice. 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 Art therapists. It is a form of misrepresentation, and it hurts the field’s image. Nonetheless, you can use art (in) therapy to benefit a client. 

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

The practice is more about the discovery process; 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. The practice can connect themes, bring up older work, connect things the client has previously said, or offer helpful suggestions. As an Art Therapist, bringing yourself into the artwork should be cautionary, and its intention 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

If you are in need of clairty or support schedule a wellness call with Sarafina.

With Intention, Sarafina