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  • Writer's pictureKatelynn Whitehead

What is Art Therapy?

For most people, sitting down in front of a blank sheet of paper with markers in hand is not something that has happened since grade school. When tasked with any creative project many people feel inadequate in their artistic and creative skills and often avoid such practices by citing their inability to “even draw a stick figure”. These feelings of anxiety towards creative performance are completely valid and often arise from experiences where artistic processes are only successful if the outcome is instagramable (*Skillfully done?)

These feelings of anxiety may arise when people hear the words art therapy– a term which in and of itself may bring uncertainty and questions to mind. But, what really is art therapy?

Art therapy is a masters level, mental health profession that utilizes creative processes and art making to improve the mental and emotional well being of adults, children and teens. Regardless of one’s own artistic skill, participating in artistic processes within a therapeutic context allows the brain to increase its ability to focus, process emotions, and lower stress. Participating in art therapy can allow for new thought patterns to occur, increase of insight into thoughts and feelings, increased ability to regulate moods like anxiety, depression, trauma, and low self-esteem, increased ability to self regulate and implement coping skills,

Communication, in any culture, is not exclusively language-based, and talking is not the only form of healing, growth, or transformation. Implicit, sensory-based experiences are at the core of any form of repair, recovery and restoration.

What does an art therapy session look like?

Each session will vary depending on each individual's unique needs and goals. It is important that individual goals are set and discussed by patient and therapist. Generally speaking, during a session the art therapist works with clients to establish an understanding of each individual client, their unique needs and what is causing them distress. The art therapist will then use guides to help guide the client in creating art that can address these issues. It is important that the art therapist emphasizes that the client doesn’t need any artistic skill or experience with art supplies. The therapist will help support the client in choosing art materials, or mediums, and can guide clients through prompts and questions as they express themselves through visuals. What is created in art therapy can be concrete images, symbols, abstract shapes, sculptures,

collages, or even scribbles. The art therapist will support the client in processing their experience, what they created, and guide the client as they reflect on emotions and gain personal understanding.

Artwork is often kept in a secure locked cabinet in the therapy room and is eventually taken home by the client once the therapy sessions are concluded. All artwork that is created is kept private and confidential.

In short, art therapy is a form of therapy that utilizes the nonverbal aspects of our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. Art therapy can be beneficial for anyone, regardless of artistic skill, in processing and coping with strong emotions that may feel difficult to express solely in words or writing. People of any age can experience the joy, relief, and fulfillment that comes from art therapy.

If you have any questions and want to talk to any of our therapists, please give us a call or book a free consultation phone call with our therapists.

We are here to support you.

Click below:


Malchiodi, C. A. (Ed.). (2011). Handbook of art therapy. Guilford Press., J. T., Findlay, J. C., Kaplan, F., Bridgham, T., Christian, D., Galbraith, A., ... & Ross, D. (2008).

Art therapy and clinical neuroscience. Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

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