There are many similarities with the therapeutic process between art therapy and other therapies. First of all, both art therapy and other modalities aim to alleviate the symptoms, to support the client’s personal process of getting insight, and to re-build resilience and well-being. However there are differences in how art therapy approaches these goals.
Art therapy uses drawing, painting, sculpting, crafting, and many other creative techniques as a second language in the sessions. Expressing oneself verbally is complemented by expressing through art materials. Why visual language has a big role in art therapy? Visual language helps us visualize our blockages, our problems in the form of an image, or a map, or an created object. It may offer a clue to further resolutions, or it may make us take a second look at the differences between what we say and what we feel. It helps us express states of minds that we are not able to express through words. It helps us talk to the therapist through metaphors and symbols, through stories that makes the hard topics easy to digest.
The metaphors are usually the only way to express feelings and sensations that are disturbing or even threatening. This modality of releasing the inner energies, either good or destructive, through metaphorical visual expression seems a non-threatening way of understanding and transcending conflicts. The art therapist Bruce Moon, points out that “some people think that the purpose of therapy is to help individuals to come to know and accept truths about their lives”. (2009, p.17) This concept is often ingrained in the clients’ mind, when they come to therapy, expecting the therapist to “fix” their problem(s). This, of course, it is not possible and usually recipes of healing cannot be applied in therapy. Moon (2009, p.21).
The art materials used in creating an image in the session play a big role in self-expression. Due to their tactile or kinesthetic quality, the art materials could tap into pre-verbal memories and bring knowledge about possible unusual responses of own body that we may ignore in our daily life.
Art therapy embraces the concept of freedom and safety in the therapeutic space. While the art therapist encourages the clients to explore further their tensions, thoughts, feelings through art materials, the clients have the opportunity to use their creativity and to share their experiences as far as they are comfortable. The clients ‘exploration of new aspects of self is gently supported by the therapist, who is there to re-balance when any dysregulation may be harmful for the clients.
There are many other aspects of working visually in therapy. Creativity is one of the most important in problem visualizing and solving, offering the possibility of taking space from own artwork and helping in introspection. Reconnecting body and mind through the quality of using multisensorial stimulation, are other important particularities in art therapy. Stay tuned to our blog page, we will talk about these aspects on a future post.
Existential Art Therapy: The Canvas Mirror (2009), by Bruce Moon, PhD, ATR-BC.