22nd March, 20214 min read

What is art therapy and who is it for?

Medical reviewer:
Dr Adiele Hoffman
Dr Adiele Hoffman
Libby Williams
Libby Williams
Last reviewed: 22/03/2021
Medically reviewed

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There are many types of therapy that can help with mental health conditions, but not everything will work for everyone.

Art therapy, also called creative therapy, can be a good option for people who feel uncomfortable with ‘talking’ therapy. Or it can be used alongside other therapies.

So read on to learn what art therapy is, how it works and who it might be helpful for.

What is art therapy?

Art therapy is a type of psychotherapy that involves creating art – such as painting, drawing, collaging and sculpting – to communicate and express your feelings. It offers a way to deal with emotional issues that may be confusing, distressing or difficult to talk about.

Professional art therapists can use art therapy to help them work out your emotional issues and provide the right kind of support.

It may help with thinking processes, self-esteem, self-awareness and emotional strength, and social skills and resolving conflicts.

A blank sketchbook, palette of paints and paint brushes

The benefits of art therapy and how it works

For some people, emotions and feelings can be difficult to talk about. The main benefit of art therapy is that it allows you to open up and express your feelings to a qualified therapist without having to speak.

This means art therapy can be a way to uncover hidden (suppressed) emotions. An art therapist or psychologist can identify emotions that have been transferred from your mind to an artwork. This can help them to start a conversation about these emotions, provide the right support and set goals.

Art therapy can increase your own awareness and understanding of your thoughts and feelings. By recognising and dealing with the issues that are raised by your art, you can begin to rediscover your sense of identity.

More research is needed into whether art therapy can treat particular mental health problems or conditions, or if certain aspects of art therapy are especially important.

A pot of paint brushes used for art therapy

Who should try art therapy?

Art therapists work with people of all ages, from children to older people. It can be particularly helpful if you struggle to express yourself or have feelings and emotions that are difficult to talk about.

Art therapy may be useful if you have any of the following:

  • depression
  • trauma
  • an eating disorder
  • bipolar disorder
  • Asperger’s syndrome
  • dementia
  • bereavement or loss
  • physical disability

How to find an art therapist

Art therapists need at least a master’s degree in art therapy or art psychotherapy. Any therapist you see should be a member of a relevant professional body to confirm they’re certified and qualified.

In the US, you can find registered therapists through the American Art Therapy Association, while in the UK you can go through the British Association of Art Therapists.

Person sitting at a desk cutting up a magazine to make a vision board

Can you do art therapy at home?

Although you won’t get the same benefits as you would from working with a professional therapist, doing art at home may still help you express your emotions and work out your feelings. Painting, drawing, doodling, sculpting, carving and collaging are all forms of art you can try at home.

Vision boarding is a similar form of therapy that’s used professionally, but you can also try it at home:

What is a vision board?

A vision board is a place to express your goals and visions for the weeks, months or years ahead. Your goals can be whatever you want them to be – such as how you want to feel, where you want to be and the people you want to surround yourself with, for example.

How to create a vision board

You can use lots of different materials to make a vision board. You can write words on scraps of paper, cut images from magazines or print photos, then stick these to a corkboard, piece of card or scrapbook.

Creating a vision board should be a positive – and personal – experience. You can also make more than 1 board. You can then display them around your house to remind you of your goals.

Key points

  • art therapy is a form of psychotherapy with a qualified therapist
  • it involves using art to help express and deal with difficult thoughts and emotions
  • art therapy can increase your self-awareness and understanding
  • people of all ages may benefit from art therapy
  • vision boarding is a type of art therapy that can be tried at home

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