Art Therapy

Art Therapy

Art therapy is a type of mental health program where patients work with an art therapist to access the creative process through the use of art media. They may use the artwork they subsequently create for a variety of purposes, including discussing their feelings, settling inner emotional conflicts, moving towards self-awareness, managing their behavior, reducing anxiety, developing problem solving strategies, and improving self-esteem, among others. One of the overarching goals is to help the patient improve his or her general sense of well-being. Art therapy may be practiced in hospitals, schools, counseling and/or therapy centers, rehabilitation facilities, crisis centers, transition homes, private practices, senior’s centers, community centers, and other clinical or community settings.

Elements of Therapy

Approaches to art therapy may vary according to the therapist and the setting. Art therapy may be conducted in a group therapy setting or an individual one. Patients are not required to have artistic skill nor a background in creative arts as prerequisites to therapy. The emphasis is on self-discovery, personal development, and self-expression as opposed to a finished art product. The artwork may be created spontaneously or guided by the therapist’s suggestions. Art therapy differs from art classes in that the focus is on the patient’s inner experience as opposed to interpreting the outside world through art. While techniques may be discussed, the emphasis is on creating images that represent inner emotions, ideas, or thoughts.

Teacher and woman painting


Art therapy can be applied to assist patients dealing with a wide variety of issues. In hospitals, art therapy has been proven as an effective way of helping patients to deal with general illnesses. It has also helped youths with autism spectrum disorder to improve their social skills. Art therapy has been used successfully to help people cope with cancer diagnoses; art can assist newly-diagnosed cancer patients to assume an identity outside of their diagnosis while offering them hope for the future. Art therapy has been studied in a number of settings, for instance in helping disaster victims, incarcerated individuals, bereaved children, dyslexics, and individuals suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In every case, art therapy has a variety of beneficial effects, from assisting patients to develop problem solving skills to decreasing self-defeating behaviors.

Female artist painting with brush on paper


Art therapy is regulated by the Art Therapy Credentials Board, Inc. (ATCB). Art therapy practitioners require a master’s degree in art therapy or a related field from a higher institution education recognized by the United States Department of Education. The credentials board ensures that art therapists adhere to certain ethical, professional, and educational standards. Certified art therapists must have completed a graduate-level education program in a relevant field in addition to supervised experience.


Art therapy is a scientifically-proven therapeutic technique that has a number of benefits for patients. It may be applied to help individuals suffering from various mental health issues in a number of settings, including schools, hospitals, community centers, or prisons. In order to become a certified art therapist, one must have at least a master’s degree in a relevant field, in addition to practical experience delivering art therapy in a supervised setting.