Art Therapy: What is Art Therapy and What Can Art Therapy Help With?
Art Therapy in Massachusetts
Interview with Shanti Sponder, LMHC, ATR
While traditional talk therapy can be a great way to discuss our emotions, thoughts, and behaviors, sometimes we just don’t know how to express what we’re experiencing with words.
Art therapy, also known as “creative psychotherapy” invites us to connect to our thoughts and feelings, and express what we’re experiencing through art. Whether it’s painting with watercolors or sculpting with clay, art therapy can be an extremely freeing way to manage behaviors, process feelings, reduce stress, and increase self-awareness.
Clients might discover the nonverbal messages, symbols, and metaphors found in different art forms, which can ultimately lead to an improved understanding of their feelings and behaviors. If someone you know is experiencing internal stressors, mental health symptoms, or developmental changes, and struggles with traditional talk-therapy, they might benefit from art therapy.
One of our trained mental health professionals at Handel Behavioral Health can help your loved one find safety and control within their environment, and can help them to express their internal struggles through art making.
To learn more about what art therapy is, the benefits and the process of healing through creation at HBH, please read on. We can also be reached at (412) 343-4357.
What is Art Therapy?
“Art therapy is not about being an artist. It’s about the process of making art to facilitate a conversation that fosters healing and growth. We use art to identify and understand patterns that occur in relationships.”
– Shanti Sponder, LMHC and ATR at HBH
The American Art Therapy Association defines art therapy as an, “Integrative mental health and human services profession that enriches the lives of individuals, families, and communities through active art-making, creative process, applied psychological theory, and human experience within a psychotherapeutic relationship.”
Facilitated by a professional art therapist at HBH, art therapy can safely and effectively improve cognitive and sensorimotor functions, strengthens self-esteem and self-awareness, improves emotional resilience, social skills, and reduces and resolves conflicts and distress.
Who Benefits From Art Therapy?
The process of creating art to foster self health and wellbeing can help people of all ages and backgrounds.
People who have endured emotional trauma, physical violence, domestic abuse, anxiety, depression, and other psychological disturbances can explore their feelings, reconcile emotional conflicts, develop self-awareness, and improve their social skills through art therapy.
Art therapy can be useful in the following situations:
- Adults experiencing extreme stress
- Children experiencing behavioral or social problems at school or at home
- Children or adults who have experienced a traumatic event
- Children with learning disabilities
- Individuals living with a brain injury
- People experiencing mental health problems
What Can Art Therapy Help With?
“I don’t think there’s a mental health condition that art therapy doesn’t help with. Art provides an outlet for people to express themselves: it depends on how willing the client is to express themselves with art.”
– Shanti Sponder, LMHC and ATR at HBH
Specific mental health conditions that art therapy can help treat include:
- Aging-related conditions
- Eating disorders
- Emotional difficulties
- Family or relationship problems
- Medical conditions
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Substance use disorder
What are the Techniques used in Art Therapy?
Art therapy combines the elements of “talk therapy” with the interpretation of visual images to understand the patient’s subconscious.
Techniques are flexible and patient dependent. Art therapists are trained to understand the role that certain colors, textures, and various media can play in the therapeutic process, and how these tools can reveal one’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
An art therapist working with two patients experiencing the same condition might select two different mediums.
For example, someone struggling with severe anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder might find it difficult to express their feelings with the changing nature of watercolors. Controlled mediums like colored pencils might prove more successful.
For some patients, the sensory experience of painting or drawing with their fingers
can calm their nerves and settle their agitation. Other patients can benefit from gripping the paintbrush or pencil to control their mark on the page.
Techniques used in art therapy can include:
- Scribbling and doodling
- Finger painting
- Working with clay
Our art therapists at HBH are trained to recognize the materials and media that best fit your personality and needs. Your art therapist will guide you with the best tools and techniques to help you become mentally healthy and fulfilled.
What is the Difference Between Art Therapy and Expressive Arts Therapy?
Art therapy focuses on the visual arts, and is considered a single modality therapy. Techniques include drawing, finger painting, painting, sculpting, and collaging.
Expressive arts therapy integrates techniques from many different artistic modalities and is considered a multi-modal approach. Techniques include poetry therapy, narrative therapy, dance and movement therapy, and music therapy.
Both art therapy and expressive arts therapy can help patients manage behaviors, process feelings, reduce stress and anxiety, and increase self-esteem.
How Can I Schedule an Appointment with a Therapist?
Art therapy can be valuable in treating a range of mental health conditions, and can help individuals express their emotions without words. Anyone can find relief in the process of creation, and our art therapists at Handel Behavioral Health encourage you to try art therapy only if you want to.
Our trained art therapists at HBH in our offices around Amherst, Wilbraham, West Springfield, Franklin, and across Massachusetts will answer all of your questions, and guide your loved one along the path of healing.
Contact us today at (413) 343-4357 or request an appointment online.