Art Therapy or Art as Therapy?

In this post I take ‘art’ to mean the creation of visual representations either digitally or with traditional media. I see it, in this context, as distinct from craft based activities such as sculpture, knitting, ceramics (although art can clearly involve any of these processes). I am not referring to fine art or a need for a cultural context.

Therapy is the idea I find interesting. The word therapy comes from Latin and Greek words meaning to heal/treat medically. So it is understood that a therapy is a medical treatment to improve someone’s well-being. It has professional connotations. But something can be ‘therapeutic’ if it just makes someone feel better. A cup of coffee could be considered therapeutic in certain situations….

Should we be relying on cures, such as ‘art therapy’, or preventing problems by practising art?

What’s the Difference …?

…. between art therapy and art as therapy.

As I understand it, ‘art therapy’ uses art exercises to deliver a therapy or treatment to help someone overcome mental/emotional/personality/social problems they might have. There is a very good post that gives an insight into an art therapy session at: what is an art therapy session like?. The author describes how she observes her client closely and helps bring light to the troubling issue/s. They then discuss this in a structured way and look for a path for the client to move forward on. So the ‘art’ is a focus for the meaningful conversation … it helps the client speak without knowing. There are many activities professionals can use to facilitate these types of discussion. See ‘The Expressive Arts Activity Book’ for ideas.

On the other hand, the process of creating art itself can be therapeutic. I have often likened it to a mindfulness exercise in my art journaling sessions. Everyone is so focused on the tactile and visual elements that they become immersed in the process and experience a couple of hours of peacefulness. This can be a relief from the persistent nature of their problems and can give them renewed strength to face the difficulties. I suggest that this relaxing nature of art journaling has led to its vast popularity today. Artists/guru/youtuber Tamara Laporte has a very healing focused approach in her online courses, encouraging participants to celebrate their strengths and be kind to themselves. Her inspiring artwork focuses on visualising the ‘inner Goddess’.

So the Difference Then …

To me it is the presence of a therapist who knows how to spot trouble and how to investigate it in a co-operative way. Someone who can guide you to find solutions that will be appropriate to you. I think that when art is used as a therapeutic activity the benefit is more immediate and restricted whereas with art therapy it could be more uncomfortable in the short term but with longer term benefits.

Please comment below if you have had any art therapy especially if you can compare it with personal art journaling practise. xx

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