/art therapy FAQs

Art therapy combines psychology with the creative process in a "hands-on" approach to therapy. Thoughts, feelings and experiences can be expressed through colour, line and shape which might otherwise be too difficult to talk about.


But all art is therapy, right?

So why waste time and money with a therapist when I can just stay home and use my colouring book?

But I can't draw!

Will art therapy be beneficial for me?

Is there a difference between art therapy offered by an art therapist and art therapy offered by someone else?


How can my artwork tell me things about myself that I don't already know?

Why are some art materials recommended for me, and others not recommended?

What will happen to my art once the session has ended?


Will my pictures be interpreted by the therapist?

Will the therapist discuss what was said in session with anyone else?

Will the therapist show my artwork to anyone else?


What kind of training should an art therapist have?

To learn more about art therapy, please visit the art therapy videos page.


All art making can be thought of as therapeutic, but not all art making is art therapy!

Self care  is all about lowering stress levels for better personal well being. This can involve art making, but it also might involve other relaxing activities. In fact, some people think art making adds to their stress - it's important to realize that everyone is different with their own approaches to stress management. While some may feel that activities like colouring, doodling and paint nights are frustrating or anxiety provoking, others get a great deal of personal satisfaction out of these types of pursuits.

Teaching art is about learning skills and acquiring techniques with specific art materials. Art is taught by an artist or qualified art teacher.  Generally, these professionals have not been trained in art therapy or any type of counselling. As a student, it is customary to wait for the teacher to give step-by-step instruction before starting with the art project. At the end of the class, everyone will have learned the same skill sets and have completed the same project - the product here being most important.

Recreation therapy uses art projects for fun and recreation for those in hospitals, long term care and other health agencies. Even though the project and instructions are the same, the process may be different for each particular client – depending on their needs. Though there are social and stress reduction benefits from participating in recreation therapy, these workers have not been formally trained in using art to address mental health issues.


Art therapy is all about art making to achieve personal mental wellness. Art therapy sessions are facilitated by a qualified psychotherapist who has trained at the masters' level (minimum) at an accredited art therapy institution. Although open ended directives are sometimes presented, you decide what to create and how to use the materials. This is usually followed by a therapeutic dialogue, where, guided by the therapist's reflective questions, you can explore the artwork and your personal creative process.


Art therapy doesn't require you to produce a piece of art in your session. No experience or training are required for you to take part. The therapist is experienced in both art and psychology, and is trained to lead you through the creative process in a therapeutic way.  You can work with difficult sensory, emotional and logical issues without directly accessing your "verbal filters".

If verbal counselling does not seem to meet your needs, art therapy may be more suitable for your particular situation.


Like any other mental health designation, art therapy should only be practiced by a qualified, trained art therapist. Some professionals (such as artists, teachers, social workers, nurses...) may think of art therapy as a description, and not a clinical profession. This is a common misconception. Although misrepresenting the profession is probably not the intention of these professionals, practicing any intervention without the proper training may put vulnerable populations at risk. To protect the public and ensure accountability to clients, art therapists must follow national standards of practice as well as a national code of ethics. Art therapists are the only professionals who qualify for art therapy liability insurance.


Body-focused expression is an important part of human development. Toddlers and children use it to help process thoughts, memories and feelings. We're not so different at any age-we all need help in "externalizing the internal" sometimes, making sense of inner thoughts, emotions and experiences.


Traumatic stress can affect an individual's sensory, motor and emotional responses, settling in the body as implicit memories. These memories don't have a verbal story to tell, so they must be processed from the "bottom up".


An art therapist can guide you in interpreting your images without exerting influence. This can eventually lead you to generate new ideas and make connections which may not have been possible in any other way.


In a one to one clinical session, the art therapist develops your treatment plan based on your unique needs, goals, limitations and mental health challenges.Similar to other programs designed to make you feel better (like exercise or diet), the art therapist is familiar with the supplies that would best promote stress reduction, personal insight and other mental health benefits in your particular case. Depending on factors such as the current situation,emotional readiness, age, past behaviour patterns and art experience, the art therapist will decide on specific art materials for your particular needs. These materials may be a little bit intimidating at first but they will also help keep you focused and feeling in control during the sessions.


Every therapist has her own policy on what to do with the artwork once a session has finished. In a client-centered, recovery-based art therapy framework, you are the artist, and therefore, you get to decide on what to do with the artwork. Some clients prefer to keep their work, while some clients don't want to see it again once the session has ended. If you don't wish to keep your artwork, the art therapist will file it and give it the same respect as any other clinical notes. No matter what you decide to do with the artwork, the art therapist will suggest that you sign a permission contract; this will allow the art therapist to take pictures of your art pieces and document your progress. Again, all pictures and progress notes will be kept confidential in your private file.

Every therapist has her own interpretive framework which she believes will best help her client. In a client-centered, recovery-based art therapy framework, you are the expert on your own experience. With the guidance of the therapist's reflective questions, you interpret your own pictures and discover your own personal meaning.


Once you have entered into a therapeutic contract with the art therapist, the majority of discussions in session will be kept confidential. An exception to this confidentiality rule happens when client safety is a concern (i.e. - suicide intention) - in these cases, the therapist will ensure that appropriate outside interventions are in place. In all other events, if the therapist needs to discuss these sessions with another professional, you can sign a waiver which will give her permission to talk about your case with the selected individual. The art therapist will not show your artwork to anyone outside of the session unless another permission waiver is signed. Being the artist, you can, of course, show your artwork to anyone you would like.


In North America, art therapists must have a master's degree or a master's level diploma in art therapy before identifying themselves with the profession. An undergraduate degree in fine arts or psychology is preferred as a prerequisite for admittance to an accredited graduate school.

Credentials are usually on public display in the therapist’s office; however, if in doubt, please ask your therapist about her educational background. Individuals who work in other art- or mental health-related fields may not have the specialized training, experience or liability insurances to effectively provide this service. 

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