How exactly does art therapy work, and what methods does it encompass? A therapist specializing in art therapy may choose from a variety of art methods, depending on the case and personality of the patient. These methods include painting or drawing pictures, sculpting a figure or abstract object, composing or listening to music, writing stories, or putting together a collage of different materials. Patients can range from young children to the elderly, and patients who have experienced trauma, violence, abuse, anxiety, depression, and other psychological problem can benefit from expressing themselves creatively.
Art therapy is usually available in most hospitals, private health offices catering to mental health, community organizations, and even in schools. Hospitals, private mental health offices, schools, and community organizations are all possible settings where art therapy services may be available.
Art therapy differs from average art classes because of the focus.
In art classes, both teacher and student focus on developing their skills and artistic technique. Art therapy on the other hand usually focuses mostly on emotions and expressing energies found within the patient.
Other than creating various forms of art, most art therapists encourage their patients to further dissect the meanings of their works by allowing them time to observe their final output and extracting insights from them. This helps both patient and doctor discover deeper meanings about their emotions.
Another technique which was created by Carl Jung is called ‘active imagination’. In this method, patients rely solely on their imaginations and create an output based on the spontaneity of their minds. The goal is to help enhance their growth and understanding.
Also popular is the gestalt method, which enters on the whole picture of the present moment. A gestalt art therapist may use different materials to initiate a discussion, or jumpstart the process, for example, a client’s image. The patient might be asked to describe their own image, as this draws opinions and generalizations based from the patient’s own perspective regarding themselves. As patients continue to talk about themselves, gradually feeling more and more comfortable adding adjectives and phrases to their own self-image, their higher understanding will reflect in their artwork.
Another approach is called the ‘third-hand’ approach, which is a term originally coined by art therapist Edith Kramer. Often, patients have difficulty in conveying their emotions through their own skills alone, so therapists will, without distorting the original artwork, get involved in the making of the artwork. The reason for this is simply to better convey the artist’s meaning into a more understandable image. For example, a therapist would help a patient apply and glue images for a collage, while still allowing the patient to choose the images themselves.