Using art in a clinical setting as a way for people to express emotional distress first began to emerge early in the 20th century. Two major proponents of using art as therapy were Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. Both of these men realized images could provide wisdom and guidance that words alone could not.
Art therapy uses the creative process of art-making to improve and enhance mental and emotional health, resolve problems, develop interpersonal skills, increase self-esteem and awareness, and achieve insight. This is an experiential process that allows the participant to interpret and make his or her own meaning of what is expressed through the art.
Art therapy is about the PROCESS…not the PRODUCT. Participants do not need to be “artistic” to engage in art therapy. A typical art therapy group may look something like this. The therapist presents a topic based on the participants’ treatment goals. A discussion ensues, and the participants begin to create the ideas that come up for them based on the topic. The therapist presents a variety of materials for the participants to work with. These include paint, pencils, crayons, pens, markers, magazines for collage, and clay. The participant chooses the medium that feels most appropriate to him or her and begins to work. Time is reserved at the end of the group for those participants who want to talk about what they have created and share the insight that has come up for them through the process.
Combining art therapy with group work can be a very effective means of normalizing symptoms that participants may be experiencing. This can go a long way in helping a client to begin to rebuild trust and decrease their sense of isolation.