Art Therapy in Massachusetts - Handel Behavioral Health
HBH Treatment & Therapies

Art Therapy: What is Art Therapy and What Can Art Therapy Help With?

Art Therapy in Massachusetts

red orange blue green drawn lines on cut out hand shaped paper which sits on a black and white photo of ferns and a rock, the rock is centered with index fingers touching the corners of the rock

Amy Mauro

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

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:

  1. Adults experiencing extreme stress
  2. Children experiencing behavioral or social problems at school or at home
  3. Children or adults who have experienced a traumatic event
  4. Children with learning disabilities
  5. Individuals living with a brain injury
  6. 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

Specific mental health conditions that art therapy can help treat include: 

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: 

  • Collage
  • Coloring
  • Drawing
  • Scribbling and doodling
  • Finger painting
  • Painting
  • Photography
  • Working with clay
  • Sculpting

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 in Amherst, Wilbraham, West Springfield, Franklin, Natick, and online across Massachusetts are here to guide you and your loved one along the path of creation and healing.

Contact us today at (413) 343-4357 or request an appointment online!

About The Author

Nettie Hoagland Headshot

Nettie Hoagland is a writer with experience in local news reporting, nonprofit communications, and community development. She earned her bachelor of arts degree in Media Studies, Journalism, and Digital Arts from Saint Michael’s College in Vermont. Nettie believes in the healing power of the arts to create connection and community. She is passionate about using writing as an instrument for personal and social growth in the field of mental health. She is currently based in Brooklyn, NY.

Shanti Sponder, LMHC, ATR Headshot

Shanti Sponder, LMHC, ATR is an experienced counselor and art therapist who views therapy as a collaborative, judgement-free integrative process leading to personal growth. She understands it can be difficult for a client to just sit down, open up and talk about their feelings and uses various techniques to help the client feel more comfortable. Shanti approaches therapy by meeting each unique client where they are and tailors her style to support their therapeutic process.