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Art Therapy: Definition and Types

Art Therapy

Art therapy, also known as expressive therapy is a therapeutic process that uses art media as its primary mode of expression and communication. It catapults your physical, mental and emotional health to a whole new level of positivity using art as the missiles. 

Traditional therapist uses words as its primary mode of expression and communication, but Art therapist uses art media.

“Art therapy is used with children, adolescents, adults, older adults, groups, families, veterans, and people with chronic health issues to assess and treat the following: anxiety, depression, and other mental and emotional problems; substance abuse and addictions; family and relationship issues; abuse and domestic violence; social and emotional difficulties related to disability and illness; trauma and loss; physical, cognitive, and neurological problems; and psychosocial difficulties related to medical illness.” (American Art Therapy Association, 2012, Online)

Further definition of art therapy from other popular sources: 

Art therapy, sometimes called creative arts therapy or expressive arts therapy, encourages people to express and understand emotions through artistic expression and through the creative process. From The Free Dictionary

Art therapy is a form of expressive therapy that uses art materials, such as paints, chalk and markers. Art therapy combines traditional psycho-therapeutic theories and techniques with an understanding of the psychological aspects of the creative process, especially the effective properties of the different art materials. From Wikipedia

Art therapy involves the creation of art in order to increase awareness of self and others. This in turn may promote personal development, increase coping skills, and enhance cognitive function. It is based on personality theories, human development, psychology, family systems, and art education. Art therapists are trained in both art and psychological therapy. From The New Medicine

Art Therapy

One thing that is distinctively differentiate art therapy from other type of therapy is that it goes beyond just words as it primary means of communication, it allows you to express your feelings through painting, drawing or other forms of art. Art therapy is not only reserve for people going through physical, mental or emotional difficulties, anybody can use it to relieve stress or get your mindset on track. 

What Does an Art Therapist Do?

art therapist

According to Art therapy blog “Art therapists are trained in both therapy and art, and have studied and mastered both psychology and human development, having received a Master’s Degree. There are various requirements for becoming an art therapist as well as certifications which means they are masters when it comes to using art as a springboard for everything from a general assessment of another person’s state to treatment for aiding serious illness. Art therapists can work with people of all ages, sex, creed, et al. They can help an individual, a couple, a family, or groups of people and depending on the situation, there may be numerous therapists working together as a clinical team.”

“Art therapists are trained to pick up on nonverbal symbols and metaphors that are often expressed through art and the creative process, concepts that are usually difficult to express with words. It is through this process that the individual really begins to see the effects of art therapy and the discoveries that can be made.”

5 Important Types of Art Therapy

Art therapy…when words is not enough. Art therapy makes it possible for people to express their feelings, experiences,  thoughts,  and emotions, and experiences that may be difficult to express in words.

In a study conducted in 2004, 32 women diagnosed with heart disease were medically interviewed and right after the interview, they were specifically instructed to illustrate the illness in painting or drawing. The drawings were categorized into three groups: (a) the heart at the center, (b) the heart in the lived body, and (c) heart disease as a social illness. The usage of color, spatial arrangement, and composition were closely analyzed and recorded, and the outcomes ultimately helped medical professionals understand each woman and their medical conditions and it also provided the medical professionals deeper insight on how to attend to each case.

Art therapist uses different types art forms and each art forms focuses on the well-being of the patient undergoing the therapy process. We are going to briefly discuss five art therapeutic process popularly used:


painting art therapy

It all starts with a paint and a brush… painting helps patients to express their feelings without words, process complex feelings and get a relief from depression and anxiety. Your painting can be directive( i.e. your therapist instructs you on what to paint) or non directive( i.e. painting without a guideline, just straight from your head and emotions).Photography

Photography has a reliable positive effects on visual memory and it helps patients to reflect and tour around memories and feelings. This helps them to understand and come in peace with their past experience. Therefore, art therapist uses photography, for example from family albums, as basis of their therapeutic process.


Drawing can help patients express emotions and feelings that’s difficult to express in words. Drawing and coloring is an excellent tool to manage anxiety and stress.


collage art therapy

using this method, the patients cuts and sticks together pictures that expresses their emotions, or that inspire them. Collage therapy is very effective and simple and does not require drawing or painting. Collage is an effective means of communicating what is difficult or impossible to express in words.


According to Time Square Chronicles “Use of textiles in expressive therapy involves puppets and stuffed toys. This form of creative therapy is important for children and adults who have physical difficulties using art supplies that need fine motor skills. Textiles tend to add a sensory level of texture and softness that can help in providing a level of safety and comfort for the patient. This can be crucial in building trust between the therapist and the patient. Textiles help patients to express themselves without the need to use pen and paper”.

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