What is an Art Therapist?
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Art therapy, facilitated by the art therapist, is a form of expressive therapy that uses the creative process of making art to explore and improve a person’s feelings, emotional conflicts, and behaviours. The creative process and the resulting artwork helps people resolve stress and anxiety, develop new social skills, and improve self-esteem and awareness.
Art therapists have studied and mastered both psychology and human development, and are trained in both therapy and art. They can help individuals, couples, families, or groups of people regardless of sex, age, or ethnicity. Through art and the creative process, art therapists are trained to pick up on unspoken symbols and metaphors; concepts that are usually difficult to express with words. Through this process, individuals can really begin to see the results of art therapy and the improvements that can be made in their lives.
What does an Art Therapist do?
Other forms of therapy prompt the use of words or language as a means of communication. However, there are times when humans are incapable of expressing themselves within this limited range. Art therapists help their clients get involved in the creation of art in order to encourage personal development, increase coping skills, and improve their quality of cognitive function.
Expressive art therapy is a fantastic field that has proven to work wonders in many people’s lives. Art therapists can help people who are struggling with frightening memories or upsetting emotions resulting from abuse, combat, cancer, traumatic brain injury, and other health disabilities; and can also help people with anti-social personality, depression, autism, dementia, and other disorders.
Clients do not need to be talented or artistic in order to experience the benefits of art therapy; an art therapist's job is not to teach or critique the artwork. It is their job, however, to delve into the underlying messages portrayed through the art, and use psychotherapeutic counseling techniques to develop personal growth, encourage self-awareness, and teach coping skills.
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What is the workplace of an Art Therapist like?
Art therapy is a vast field, and has been used on a variety of individuals; from young children to the elderly; prisoners to war veterans; and individuals with psychological disorders to physical disabilities.
Art therapists can work in hospitals, rehabilitation care units, clinical research facilities, wellness centres, assisted living centres, psychiatric facilities, detention centres, forensic institutions, crisis centres, senior communities and schools. Their clients can range from single individuals, couples, families, and groups.
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Why Art Therapy Works
There has been very little substantiation that art therapy makes a positive difference in emotional recovery in individuals challenged by personality disorders. Researchers Haeyan, van Hooren and Hutchemaekers (2015) set out to identify the possible effects of art therapy on the recovery process in groups of adults with personality disorders, based on existing anecdotal observations made by practitioners in the field and patient testimonies.
I’d always played the role of “therapist” to my friends, but never could really buy into “psychobabble bull$&t” of conventional psychotherapy. Through art therapy, I found something real, tangible and useful that actually benefited others.
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Michele Wood is an art therapist who works with adults and children, especially those living with life-threatening illnesses. She works for Marie Curie Cancer Care in their Hospice in Hampstead, London, and as a senior lecturer at the University of Roehampton training art therapists on the MA in Art Psychotherapy.