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  • Writer's pictureChristopher Vu

What is Art Therapy: A Comprehensive Exploration

Updated: Nov 22, 2023

Over the past decade, art therapy has gained recognition for its effectiveness in addressing a wide range of emotional and psychological issues.

Defining Art Therapy

Art therapy is a mental health profession that combines the creative process and psychotherapy to promote self-awareness, emotional healing, and personal growth. It provides individuals a safe and non-judgmental space to explore their thoughts and feelings and experience various art materials.

What is Art Therapy 1
Art therapy utilizes creative processes to facilitate emotional expression and healing.

Art therapists, trained mental health professionals, will guide and support individuals in their artistic endeavours by helping them understand and work through their emotions, thoughts, and behaviours. Unlike traditional talking therapy, art therapy can be particularly effective for individuals who struggle to express themselves verbally.

The Revolution of Art Therapy

Since prehistoric times, the arts have been integral to human history, growth, culture, and awareness. A similar comprehension may be traced back to the first cave drawings when humans used art to express themselves and exert power in the natural world. Ancient societies from hundreds of years ago, like the Navajo and African sculpting traditions, included visual arts-based therapeutic practices. These concepts served as the basis for modern understandings of art therapy (Junge, 2016).

What is Art Therapy 2
Ancient arts served as the basis for modern understandings of art therapy.

Art therapy originated in the United States when Margaret Naumburg, sometimes called the "mother of art therapy," started writing clinical cases in the 1940s. In 1943, she gave the new profession its name by referring to her work as "dynamically oriented art therapy." The phrase "art therapy" was first used in England in the 1930s (Waller, 1991, 1998), and it was formally coined in 1942 by artist Adrian Hill, while Naumburg did it in America. The 1940s saw a rise in intellectual and sociological trends that eventually paved the way for this new profession.

Incorporating Art Therapy into Mental Health Treatment

Art therapy is often used as a complementary approach to traditional talking therapy and other mental health treatments. It might serve as a valuable tool for dealing with particular problems, gaining insight, and enhancing emotional well-being. Art therapy has evolved considerably for decades, and its applications have expanded beyond traditional therapy settings. This revolution has seen art therapy integrated into various domains, including schools, hospitals, rehabilitation centres, and corporate environments.

Art Therapy in Education:

Art therapy has made significant inroads in education, particularly in helping children and young adults express themselves and develop emotional intelligence, according to Clara Keane (2017). It also provides an avenue for addressing issues such as bullying, academic pressure, and behavioural problems (Freire, 2005).

What is Art Therapy 3
Art therapy helps children and young adults express themselves and develop emotional intelligence.

Art Therapy in Healthcare Settings:

In hospitals and rehabilitation centres, art therapy is used to help patients cope with physical and emotional pain and facilitate their recovery process. For individuals with chronic illnesses or disabilities, art therapy can be a means of regaining a sense of control and self-esteem. As of 2013, about half of American healthcare facilities reported providing art therapy programmes (Harter et al., 2013).

Art Therapy in Mental Health and Wellness:

Beyond traditional psychotherapy, art therapy is now widely used for self-exploration and stress relief. In an age of heightened mental health awareness, many people have turned to art therapy to cope with stress, anxiety, and depression (Metzl et al., 2016).

The Confidentiality of Art Therapy

Confidentiality is a fundamental aspect of art therapy. Clients can trust that their artwork and the content of their sessions will remain private and protected. This assurance creates a safe space for individuals to express themselves without fear of judgment or disclosure.

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The confidentiality of our clients is always our top priority at DAT.

In Conclusion:

Art therapy is a dynamic and creative form of psychotherapy that leverages the power of art for emotional healing and self-exploration. It offers a unique and non-verbal outlet for expressing feelings, exploring thoughts, and gaining insight into one's dynamic world. While art therapy may not replace traditional talking therapy or other mental health treatments, it can be a valuable and complementary tool for addressing emotional challenges, enhancing self-awareness, and promoting overall well-being.


1. Freire, P. (2005). Education for Critical Consciousness. New York: Continuum International Publishing Group.

2. Junge, M. B. (2016). History of art therapy. In D. E. Gussak & M. L. Rosal (Eds.), The Wiley handbook of art therapy (pp. 7–16). Wiley Blackwell.

3. Harter, L. M., Quinlan, M. M., & Ruhl, S. (2013). The storytelling capacities of arts programming in healthcare contexts. In L. M. Harter & Associates (Ed.), Imagining new normals (pp. 29-50). Dubuque, IA: Kendall Hunt.

4. Keane, C. (2017, May 11). An Expert on School-Based Art Therapy Explains how Art Therapy Helps Children Make Sense of the Insensible. American Art Therapy Association.

5. Matzka, M., Mayer, H., Kock-Hodi, S., Moses-Passini, C., Dubey, C., Jahn, P., Schneeweiss, S., & Eicher, M. (2016). Relationship between resilience, psychological distress and physical activity in cancer patients: A cross-sectional observation study. PLOS ONE, 1-13.

6. Waller, D. (1991). Becoming a profession. London, England: Routledge.

7. Waller, D. (1998). Towards a European art therapy. Buckingham, UK: Open University Press.


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