In my articles ‘What Is Art Therapy?’ and ‘What Happens In An Art Therapy Session?’ I discuss many of the most important things that you might want to know if you’re wondering about Art Therapy. And of course there will probably be more things you’d like to ask! Here are some frequently asked questions about Art Therapy. Please note that I am talking about Art Therapy (also known as Art Psychotherapy) only as it is practised in the UK by HCPC registered Art Therapists.
Who Goes to Art Therapy?
All types of people. Art Therapy is amazingly versatile, and can meet people at whatever level they are at. Many of the people I work with are professional people who’ve been having difficulties with anxiety or depression, have experienced a trauma, or would just like a bit of added insight or processing of something that’s going on in their life right now. Art Therapy is great, too, for people who just want to deepen their connection to themselves and seek personal growth.
Art Therapy can also be an effective treatment for a range of mental health diagnoses, which is why Art Therapists are employed in many NHS Trusts.
Does Art Therapy Happen in Groups, or One-to-One Like Counselling?
Both. Art Therapy can happen in groups, just as talking therapy can, and this is different from one-to-one work. Personally, I specialise in working with clients individually.
Do You Have to be Arty or Have Special Skills to Go to Art Therapy?
No! You don’t have to be ‘good at art’. It isn’t about that. You may think that you couldn’t possibly put how you’re feeling into an art image, and that you wouldn’t even know where to start. But actually, you’ll likely find that this isn’t a problem. A trained Art Therapist will be able to help you connect with your feelings and thoughts through your images, and/or through the process of creating the images.
Plus, if you don’t want to make art, then — you don’t make art! And that’s fine. Personally, I feel comfortable whether or not my clients want to make art in the session. They get to choose.
How Will I Know What to Talk About, or What to Draw/ Paint?
At first, it can feel very strange to be sitting with a relative stranger and somehow feel you’re expected to ‘come up with something’. But don’t worry! Your therapist will understand that you may be feeling quite uncertain and anxious. She or he will know how to help you get over your nerves and get started.
Some therapists may suggest an activity for you to try; others will help you get started by encouraging you to talk (if you feel like talking) or just touching some of the art materials and seeing what marks they make. You don’t have to have an idea already in your head of ‘what to draw’ — although you may sometimes find you feel strongly that there is something you really want to draw or paint.
If drawing and painting feel a bit daunting, you might prefer to work with ready-made materials like postcards, pictures from magazines, cards, miniature objects in a sandtray, stones or shells (your therapist will guide you).Frequently asked questions about Art Therapy. Click To Tweet
Does the Art Therapist Analyse and Interpret the Art?
If you mean, does the therapist think ‘Aha, my client has drawn a cigar — I know exactly what that means!’ — then the answer’s no! The therapist’s aim is to help you figure out what your image means to you. They can offer their ideas, but only as suggestions, to help you find what fits and resonates with you. It’s a very collaborative process.
Isn’t Art Therapy Just for Children?
Art Therapy works extremely well for children. And it works extremely well for adults. All kinds of adults!
Is the Art the Main Healing Factor in Art Therapy?
In all kinds of psychotherapy and counselling, including the Arts Therapies, the very most important thing that helps the therapy to be effective, is the quality of the relationship. Study after study has shown this.
Whatever the style of therapy, whatever the theories the therapist subscribes to, the amount of talking or art-making or anything else: None of that is as important as the quality of the professional relationship between the therapist and the client. The relationship is the main healing factor in Art Therapy.
Can You Do Art Therapy Online?
This is something that Art Therapists are really just starting to explore. It depends on the client and the Art Therapist. Sometimes my online therapy clients may make art during the session. They may also create artworks in between sessions (emailing me the photos, if they wish, before our next session). We will also often talk in terms of imagery and metaphor, probably more than most online counsellors might.
If you’re an Art Therapist reading this, and you’re looking into starting to offer therapy online, you may like to check out my e-book.
Is Art Therapy More Beneficial than Counselling or Other Types of Psychotherapy?
I think it depends on the therapist, and certainly on the client too, and what the client wants and needs. I think that Art Psychotherapy can often help people access certain understandings about themselves quite quickly. Because it’s an Experiential kind of therapy, it can sometimes provide a bit of a short-cut to get to some important inner stuff. But I am a big fan of some other types of psychotherapy and counselling too, and I think there’s a place for all of it.
Some Art Therapists also have specialist training in other types of psychotherapy. This could include trauma therapy (there are many types), Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy, Gestalt therapy, Integrative therapy, EMDR, Jungian analysis, and many other kinds of psychotherapy.
Would Anyone Else Need to Know That I am in Therapy?
Most private clients prefer to keep the work entirely private. There is normally no reason why your family, friends, doctor or employer would need to know that you are going to Art Therapy, unless you choose to tell them. If you want your therapist to speak with another professional, such as your doctor or care co-ordinator, you should discuss this with him or her.
Your therapist will discuss limits to confidentiality at the start of treatment, and will give you a form to sign to show that you have understood this. If you are using some form of health insurance, your therapist may be obliged to discuss your case with your insurance company (this is one of the reasons why many Art Therapists prefer not to work with insurance companies).
If you are having Art Therapy in an NHS setting, such as a Mental Health outpatient unit or hospital ward, then certain other medical staff will have access to your records.
I Find my Art Group/ Class very Therapeutic. Should I see an Art Therapist Individually as Well?
Certainly, being involved in the arts on any level can be therapeutic and helpful in lots of ways, and that’s wonderful! Connecting with our creativity, especially when it also involves collaborating with or working alongside other people, can be really positive, satisfying and constructive.
I think that you might have a sense, deep-down, of when you need something more — when you need to find someone very experienced who can provide something that is particularly geared to you and the issue that you are currently struggling with.
You might be looking for a therapist to help you manage feelings of shame or confusion or distress; it can be very difficult to work through those feelings successfully on your own. The empathy, recognition and understanding of your Art Therapist can be absolutely crucial in enabling you to gradually discover, manage and accept parts of yourself that perhaps had to stay hidden before.
How do I Find an Art Therapist?
Check with the professional organisations that regulate Art Therapy in your country or State. In the UK, where I am based, you can contact the British Association of Art Therapists. (If you are a registered Art Therapist outside of the UK, do let me know in the comments below, of the professional organisation that you belong to, so I can add it to the resources section). You could also seek Art Therapy through the NHS, or through a charity that supports people in your position (e.g. bereavement, critical illness, etc).
If you would like to work with me, I am based near Colchester, Essex, UK. Email me espcameron[at]protonmail.com for a free 15-minute phone consultation so that we can discuss your needs. I also offer online sessions.
How Often Should I have Sessions?
The way I work is one-to-one, usually once a week at the same time each week, until you reach your goals. The work is entirely unique and tailored to that client. It is very boundaried and contained, and these limits provide a great sense of safety and structure for the work.
If There’s no Art-making in a Session, Can it Be Called Art Therapy?
Possibly. Art Therapy isn’t only about the art. Art therapists in the UK (and in many other countries) have a thorough training in psychotherapy, which means that they are equally able to work with the client’s many other forms of expression, whether that’s through words, metaphor, facial expressions, gestures, tone of voice, mood, pace of speech, postures, etc. Art Therapists are also artists themselves, and as such they are particularly sensitive to the needs of creative people, and of people who would like to develop their creative side.
What Else Would You Like to Ask About Art Therapy?
Post your questions about Art Therapy in the comments below, and I’ll try to answer them!