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What is Art Therapy and How does it work?

What is Art Therapy and How does it work?

Updated on May 27, 2022

Reviewed by Dr. Nereida Gonzalez-Berrios, MD , Certified Psychiatrist

Art Therapy - Definition, Types, Techniques, Benefits & 100 Ideas

You are here because someone told you Art Therapy works

Or, maybe you are just curious because art is the new fashion

Or, maybe you genuinely want to know about infamously-famous art therapy.

Whatever the reason might be, the point is you are here, reading this.

So before getting to the crux, I want you to answer one question: When was the last time you actually picked up a paintbrush to create a piece of art?

I am sure, most of you either don’t remember or think that they are “not creative”. Well, here’s debunking a worldwide myth for you: you don’t need to be creative to enjoy the benefits of art therapy.

Still don’t believe me? Stick with me till the end and I promise you will have a completely different perception about art therapy – not to mention all the extra knowledge about benefits, ideas, limitations, and whatnot. 😉

So, let’s first begin with…

Art Therapy Infographic

What is art therapy, its types and whom does it benefit
What is art therapy, its types and whom does it benefit?

What is Art Therapy? (Art Therapy Definition)

A form of therapy that uses the creative process of art-making to improve a person’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being.

The term art therapy is a combination of two words – “art” and “therapy”. While art means visual representation of all things that you can imagine, therapy means the treatment of mental, emotional, or physical disorders by psychological means.

When used together, art therapy means the application of visual arts in a therapeutic context.

It is an integration or a blend of arts and psychology that uses the creative process, artistic techniques, and external artworks to help people develop self-awareness, explore emotions, improve social skills, address unresolved conflicts and raise self-esteem.

However, the American Art Therapy Association defines art therapy as follows:

“Art Therapy is 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.” – American Art Therapy Association, 2013

What Art Therapy is Not?

Recently, people have been talking about Mindfulness Coloring. Some people consider this as art therapy but it is a very distinct form of accredited art practice.

Though these activities are helpful, they cannot be considered art therapy unless a licensed art therapist has designed it.

Further, art therapy also combines individual creative processes with other forms of talk therapy to understand the patient’s unexpressed emotions and give them a better experience.

Art therapy vs Arts Therapy

You should also not confuse Art therapy with Arts Therapy because both are different at the core.

Art therapy only involves the use of visual arts and creative techniques like drawing, painting, collaging, etc. Arts Therapy has a braider ground of therapeutic techniques offered to the clients that include: poetry, drama, dance, music, etc.

Long story short, even though both are focused on providing mental and emotional relief to the patient, art therapy is not just limited to visual arts, unlike art therapy.

After knowing what is art therapy and what it is not, let me give you a quick…

A Peek into the History

Art has been in existence as long as humans. People have been using art to communicate, express themselves since time immemorial.

However, art as a therapy or art therapy was identified only recently when Adrian Bill coined the term in 1942. Adrian is a British artist who attributed his recovery from tuberculosis to painting and drawing.

Since then, doctors started noticing how art has been the dominant form of expression for people suffering from mental health disorders which further led many to explore art as a healing technique.


How does Art Therapy Work?

Art therapists are trained to perform a variety of methods like drawing, painting, collaging, sculpture, etc. Clients who have experienced difficult situations in life or are suffering from mental or emotional conditions can benefit greatly from expressing themselves creatively.

Art Therapists work with people of all ages, caste, creed, race, religion, sex, etc. and their therapy services are usually available in a wide variety of settings like inpatient offices, schools, private mental health organizations, and community organizations.

Other than that, art therapy activities may also take place at non-professional places like schools and colleges, hospitals, art studios, community centers, wellness centers, correctional facilities, etc.

However, you must remember that art therapy does not equal art class. The latter is focused on teaching you a particular skill, while art therapy is concentrated on healing the participant.

Before you proceed to explore the types, you need to first know…

10 Benefits of Art Therapy

Art Therapy treats a wide range of physical and psychological disorders out of which some are enlisted below. If not exclusively, it is used along with other healing techniques like group therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, etc.

Physical Benefits of Art Therapy

1. Benefits Cancer Patients

Studies have also shown the benefits of art therapy on cancer patients. Right from relieving stress during chemotherapy to being able to focus on positive things in life, art therapy has shown multiple benefits for Cancer patients.

2. Treats general illnesses

Art therapy can also help alleviate general illnesses like heart diseases, influenza, etc. Further, looking at or creating art in the hospitals has also led to speeding up the healing process, stabilizing vital signs, and also bringing a sense of hope among the patients.

3. Cures Eating Disorders

People suffering from anorexia or any other kind of eating disorder can also benefit greatly from art therapy. This is because the process allows them to vocalize their emotions which otherwise, they couldn’t.   

As humans age, they develop several medical conditions but if they are accustomed to practicing art, they will experience less trouble than those who don’t.

5. Curtails Substance dependence

Art therapy also curtails drug or alcohol addiction as it realigns your focus and helps you to regain physical and emotional health.

Psychological Benefits of Art Therapy

6. Stress Relief

Psychological disorders like anxiety, depression can also be controlled by the right art techniques suggested by art therapists. It allows you to relax and helps relieve stress.

7. Self Discovery

Art therapy helps you acknowledge feelings that you have been hidden in your subconscious. It allows you to explore emotions and accept them without judging yourself.  

8. Emotional Release

Creative expression is the greatest benefit of art therapy. It allows you to express and let go of all your fears and negative emotions that are often difficult to express.

9. Self Esteem

The creative process of art therapy gives you a feeling of self-accomplishment which negates your self-doubt and boosts confidence.

10. Disaster Relief

People suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder or distress after some traumatic event in their life can greatly benefit from art therapy.

Now, diving a little deeper, with

5 Types of Art Therapy

There are different forms of art therapies but one thing is common among all of them: they are all focused on the well-being of the patient taking therapy.

There are broadly five types of art therapy – drawing, painting, sculpture, collage, and textiles. Recently, with the advancement in technology, there are two new additions, i.e., photography and digital art.

1. Drawing

Drawing art therapy can be extremely varied. Right from a pencil to charcoals to even crayons, you can draw with anything.

People are usually familiar with the art supplies of drawing as they use it in daily life. Yet, sometimes they have a preconceived notion about drawing that only creative people can do it.

2. Painting

Painting is one of the very few limitless types of art therapy. You can paint anything and everything and to be able to do that, makes you feel free and liberated.

There’s a list of art techniques that include painting-like portrait painting, blot art, etc. Plus, you need a very limited number of things to start painting: just a blank canvas, some colors, and a few brushes.

3. Sculpture

The sculpture is a 3D art form that allows the patients to develop a dimensional perspective on situations.

It is usually performed with the help of clay, paper clay, or mache. People seeking sculpture art therapy give them the opportunity to create shapes and sizes according to their comfort.

4. Collaging

Collaging is a practice where lots of cutting and sticking is involved. It gives patients a great sense of freedom and also allows them to explore their creative side.

For patients, who find it difficult to make decisions, collaging is the ideal art therapy.

5. Textiles

Textiles are a form of expressive therapy that capitalize on the sensory level of humans. It involves activities like puppet therapy, softness project, or stuffed toys.

For people who struggle to express themselves with a pen and paper, textiles are the best alternative providing the desired safety and comfort.

Bonus: Photography & Digital Art

Photography is used to capture and stimulate memories in patients. Even in various art techniques like journaling, creating a memory book, photography is promoted. This is primarily to foster imagination among the patients.

Digital art is all the art that you can do on new technology like computers, phones, tabs, design pads, etc. With changing times and advancing technology, it’s greatly replacing the traditional form of drawing or painting.

Here comes my favorite part of this think-piece

100 Art Therapy Ideas, Techniques & Exercises

Art Therapy is a private practice with a list of ideas, each with its own advantages. While a certified art therapist will be able to guide you better, the ideas listed below will help you start.

I have also divided them into 10 subheads depending on the age group and the conditions that you are suffering.

You don’t have to necessarily suffer from something to practice art therapy. Even as a happy individual, you can start doing some art daily and reap its benefits. After all, you have nothing to lose!

Art Therapy Ideas for Children

1. Find a Safe Place

This therapy works with people of all ages but is more effective to treat children and adults who struggle to feel safe.

This art activity asks the participants to imagine a place that makes them feel secure and then replicate it with the help of cardboard, paper, boxes, colors, or anything else that can help them create it.

2. Draw your heart

Kids often fail to express what’s in their hearts. A set of three worksheets is used for them to help them visually express the things they care about.

These worksheets have a heart outline on them and children are asked to draw, paint, color, or even write inside that heart and fill it with things that make them feel good.

3. Create a collage with colors

Colors can affect your moods at different levels. But this collage is not to transform your current state of mind but to delve deep within it.

 So, if you are feeling angry, you can cut-paste orange images on a blank canvas. Addressing your current emotion helps you deal with it better.

4. Use textures to explore emotions

Human touch is a very powerful sense organ. You can help children explore uncomfortable emotions with this activity.

Just find some different kinds of fabrics, textured materials, or soft fabrics, put them in a box, and ask the participants to identify each as good/bad and why they feel so. Later you can also ask them to create a collage from the comforting materials or a pillow-like structure.

5. Make use of Line art

Line art is one of those schools art techniques that most children are taught at an early age. Irrespective of its basic nature, it still contains a lot of emotions and when applied can help you demonstrate your emotions.

6. Paint a Valley/Mountain

Children are innocent beings and often remember natural wonders like magical creatures. Ask them to draw these natural elements depending on how they made them feel. Say, for instance, a mountain can represent happiness while a valley, sadness.

7. Simply, COLOR!

Sometimes, the simple act of coloring can be extremely therapeutic especially for children. So, go grab some coloring books and let your tiny ones delve into colors.

8. Draw in the lap of nature

Drawing or painting amidst a field of grass, a playground, or even at a farmhouse can positively impact the child’s creativity. They not only feel free but also get in touch with nature.

9. Draw yourself as superhero

This activity can be a great boost in your child’s self-confidence. To make it more personal, ask them to draw their favorite superhero on their own self.

10. Assemble a jungle animal collage

Children can draw their favorite animals, put them in a jungle, and later reflect on why they chose these specific animals. It puts a light on the traits that attract them and how they identify them as good or bad.

Art Therapy Ideas for Teens

11. Create a collage with words

Teens often feel lost in harsh and judgmental environments. This art therapy activity allows them to reflect on their core values and identify who they think they are.

This activity is also called “Words to Live by” where they select images, words, pictures, or even colors from old magazines and newspapers that they feel connected to.

12. Cut-paste a painting

This form of therapy asks you to create a painting on a piece of paper or cardboard. Then cut or tear it into small pieces only to use them for creating work of art, all new.

The process of destruction and recreation allows us to take risks in life and push ourselves beyond our comfort zone.

13. Draw in complete darkness

Even when you participate in art therapy exercises, there’s some fear of judgment hidden deep within especially with the teens.

Drawing a portrait in complete darkness frees you from all the criticisms and allows you to express your thoughts and emotions. Trust me, you’ll be surprised with your artwork when you turn back on the lights.

14. Revamp a masterpiece

If you don’t wish to start an active art right from the scratch, why not add some to the already existing art masterpieces?

Right from Monalisa to Picasso’s famous paintings, give it your own touch and the final product will surely amaze you (or make you laugh!). Either way, it’s a win-win.

15. Make a Mandala

Mandalas are a form of meditative therapy that allows you to calm down and reconcile emotional conflicts. So, whether you use traditional sand or make one appear – mandalas are a great choice to practice art therapy.

16. Recreate a childhood memory

There are so many memories from our childhood that we want to recreate. In this activity, you just have to document it or express it in a creative way. Old sweet memories allow you to experience joy and happiness at the moment.

17. Explore Puppet Therapy

Puppets are classified as “just” for kids but it’s not just that. You can make puppets of your own and create scenes with them that make you happy.

18. Design a color-based emotional wheel

Emotional wheels can help you group feelings, visually. Done well, it further allows you to think critically about your emotions.

19. Paint using Calm colors

A drawing or painting made with colors that calm you can be a great therapy session. Colors can cause ripple effects on humans in both positive and negative ways. So, make sure to use them carefully because you don’t wish to further trigger your anxious mind.

20. Collage a “perfect” day

Visualize a perfect day in your mind and use your creative mind to collage it on paper. Thinking about your perfect days can make you happy and help you calm down the racing nerves.

Art Therapy Ideas for Adults

21. Write a Postcard

…but don’t send it.

Writing from an unwritten love note to an angry rant, writing a postcard, and then later trashing it is a therapeutic technique that often relaxes your mind similar to coloring in a coloring book.

22. Roleplay with creative masks

This is an expressive arts therapy especially for people with eating disorders and body image issues. Participants are asked to create masks symbolic of their “best face”.

It helps people to explore emotions hidden deep within, develop self-awareness, and also uncover coping skills.  

23. Create a Poem Collage

Adults are often colonized by self-criticism and struggle to accept themselves as they are.

Creating a poem from random words collected from magazines, books, newspapers, etc. allows the participants in art therapy to feel less conscious about their appearance or feelings.

24. Visualize a lighthouse

Art therapy sessions can also bring back the lost hope among individuals with the right kind of techniques. One of the most effective examples of art therapy techniques that rejuvenates hope is the Lighthouse activity.

 Participants are asked to imagine themselves being lost in the sea and visualize the ideal lighthouse that would provide guidance in times of crisis and then draw or paint it on paper.

25. Create a Family Sculpture

As we grow older, our family relationships impact our thought processes, social skills, and even artistic ability.

This activity will help bring awareness to your family dynamics and reflect on other unresolved conflicts. All you have to do is provide each participant with clay and ask them to mold other family members.

26. Design your own self-care box

This is a very simple activity but the therapeutic benefits of it are immense. Start by creating your own cardboard box and now keep storing things in it that symbolize self-care for you.

It can be anything – positive affirmations, small trinkets, souvenirs, quotes, pictures of loved ones, movie vouchers, or any other kind of visual art. You can use this on days when you feel drained or overwhelmed with your daily responsibilities.

27. Hang your wishes on a tree

A physical object holding your wildest dreams can boost hope and faith in unexplainable ways. In this type of therapy, you are asked to write your wishes on paper and hang them on a tree or a tree-like object.

When you scribble your dreams and hopes on a paper, it makes it more likely to get real. Plus, these colorful papers look like blossoming flowers from far away.

28. Paint some Russian Dolls

Human beings have many layers with a lot of emotions hidden underneath. To portray these layers, either buy a set of dolls and paint them or paint a few cardboard gift boxes.

You can also use images, words, or colors to recreate the layers you envision about yourself.   

29. Paint your body outline

Lie down on a large sheet of paper and create an outline of it. Now watercolor is based on the colors that you often experience or think about.

Now focus on these colors and see what they mean to you. Pay attention to the intensity of the colors and imagine this as one of the most soothing self-relaxing experiences.

30. Decorate an altar

If there’s a loved one who is getting married, decorate the shrine for them with personal photographs, letters, and other art objects you created in their honor.

This activity rekindles memories and solidifies the relationship you share with the person, reconciling emotional conflicts.

Art Therapy Ideas for Anxiety

31. Create your own Panic book

People suffering from mental illnesses like anxiety often trigger panic attacks. The panic book activity asks the participants to create their own reserve of images, quotes, affirmations, or anything else that helps them keep calm in troubling situations.

32. Give your anxiety a shape

This shape can be anything – a human, a monster, or even an abstract concept. When you can visualize anxiety as something existing, you can see it coming and also develop solid strategies to confront it.

You can recreate this personality with the help of paints, colors, clay, or even some waste material present at home.

33. Do meditative painting

If you are finding a way to relax, this should be your go-to activity. You don’t need any drawing skills for it. Just a blank canvas and a desire to relax.

34. Draw zentangles

Drawing shapes or patterns allow your brain to calm down and also helps in treating depression. Take some coloring pens and paper, and start drawing zentangles.

Don’t worry about perfection, the whole purpose of drawing zentangles is to create a feeling of accomplishment whether or not you know how to draw.

35. Create Mindfulness Beads

Mindfulness beads activity is one of the most effective coping mechanisms to manage anxiety. All you have to do is buy some beads and take apart some old jewelry.

Now use some strings and oven-baking clay skills to create beads of your own. This acts as a great technique to distract your attention in times of crisis.

36. Maintain an Art Journal

Journals are not just writing journals. You can also maintain an art journal and draw one page each day. Let this be your escape and a creative process to express your emotions through the day.

37. Paint with some music

Music with art makes for a great combination. It aligns your mind-body into creating a piece of art fostering self-awareness and promoting personal growth.

38. Depict your creative version of freedom

Automatic drawing has been propagated time and again for the innumerable benefits that it has to offer. In this activity, your hand is allowed to move freely across the paper drawing anything that your mind wants.

The purpose was to free the artists from any conventions and incorporate subconscious into their drawings.

39. Turn a quote into a piece of art

It can either be your favorite quote or a quote that has made some significant changes in your life. Wear your creative hat and create a visual representation of this quote. You are free to use any kind of materials and tools.

40. Capture beautiful things

Nature is beautiful and so are its creatures. Take out your camera, go take a walk in the park and take photographs of all the things that make your heart scream in amazement. Remember, no one else has to like it but you.

Art Therapy Ideas for Happiness

41. Make a DIY “anti-calendar”

If you are one of those people who plan their days prior and keep calendars all-locked, this activity is just for you!

You need to make a DIY advent calendar with treats waiting for you every new day. It doesn’t have to be materialistic like chocolates, or shopping. It can simply be a quote that you read to yourself, a compliment for your mind, or something as simple as “eat breakfast on the bed today”.

42. Collect your memory rocks

There are some days in life that we never want to forget. You can’t control time but you can definitely create your own memory “rock”.

Collect souvenirs from special days in the form of rocks to carry them home. If rocks are not your thing, anything that reminds you of the day will do the trick. Decorate these keepsakes and keep collecting them.

On days when you are feeling lost, look back at these joyous blocks and it will remind you of all the good days!

43. Create with your non-dominant hand

“Every child is an artist; the problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” – Pablo Picasso.

Let your creative expression overpower and pass the brush to the other hand. Now forget what you’ve learned about art, just let it flow. Now embrace the wiggly, bumpy strokes because hey, art is not defined – it never will be.

44. Recreate your stuffed toy

Remember the stuffed teddy bears from your childhood memory? Well, it’s time to give them a new look.

Find out your old-lost beloved childhood toy and recreate it. Patch the holes, replace the ragged parts, give it a new look – and there you are, back with your best childhood buddy!

45. Channel Giuseppe Arcimboldo

Giuseppe Arcimboldo was a 16th-century Italian painter who created self-portraits with painted objects like fruits, veggies, or even fish.

You can also create this type of art to benefit from art therapy. Whether you draw, paint or collage, create your own version of things that mean something to you.

46. Paint a mirror

Bunk the concept of “blank canvas” and start creating art on anything – like a mirror, window, or even doors.

Start with applying pigment and then let your artistic expression takeover. Don’t hold yourself back and think of the surface as an adult coloring book only without outlines.

47. Produce permission slips

The guilt of some personal traits because society defines it as a “fault”? Make permission slips and allow yourself to do just that – one each day.

The goal of art therapy is to minimize the feelings of self-hatred and this activity does just that. When you turn a small defeat into an accomplishment, it further promotes self-confidence.

48. Send a message/drawing with a balloon

This tiny act of attaching a note or drawing with a balloon can help you let go of negative emotions that weigh you down. When you set the balloon free, you feel light and liberated.

49. Invent something – anything!

There’s no one around to judge you. So, let the creative juices flow and invent something. No matter how weird it is, the art of creation will give you a sense of achievement and belongingness.

50. Draw in Sand

Draw shapes, patterns, letters, or even portraits on the sand. Just like a zentangle, a drawing in the sand also allows you to clear your mind and start afresh.

Art Therapy Ideas for De-stressing

51. Do a doodle

We all have difficult days when sneaking a work of art is extremely difficult. That’s when doodling comes to your rescue.

Doodling is a form of art free of any rules and regulations. You can scribble whatever comes to your mind even if it’s just a happy face or some weird patterns. This not only reduces anxiety but also allows you to get into a creative rhythm.

52. Make a DIY Stencil

If you are at an art block, this is the best place to start. Pick up a cardboard box and scissors, and start cutting your own shape.

It can be anything, from a weird animal character to an imprint of your own self. You can also use this stencil on your future artworks. Don’t worry about the weird cuts and imperfect proportions, a handmade stencil is not meant to be perfect.

53. Make a painting with your body

Creative art is not just about lots of fancy artistic tools and a blank canvas. You just need a creative mind and your own beautiful body!

Yes, you read that right. Explore the anatomy of God’s most beautiful creation – YOU! Use your fingertips, fingers, toes, nails, or even hair for creating art. Trust me, the final product will not only increase self-esteem but also help you deal with mental health problems.

54. Craft your spirit animal

Each one of us has our own spirit animal who guides us towards wisdom during troubling times.

This activity wants you to capitalize on it and design your own version of your hybrid creature. Let your wild fantasies run free and create whatever comes to your mind – a three-mouthed lizard, a snowy owl, or a jellyfish dragon.

55. Design your dream guardian

We have all heard of dream catchers but this activity asks you to give a modernized twist to it.

You don’t have to limit yourself to the traditional shape of a dreamcatcher. Just a dangling structure to hang over your head while you are lost in your sleep will serve the purpose.

56. Create artwork with an expiration date.

The art of Letting go is one of the most difficult traits to master. It is also the primary reason why people suffer from anxiety, depression, and several other mental disorders.

 Work with natural materials to create a piece of art that erodes with time. Right from a sandcastle to a chalk mural – there are so many things that can be set free.

57. Set up a doodle chain

You know the most amazing fact about a doodle: it can never be bad. Once you start drawing a doodle, you will keep giving in to the endless opportunities that appear before you and find it really hard to stop.

The transformation of one small figure into a chain of artistic thoughts gives you a strange sense of calmness and helps you resolve conflicts lying deep within.

58. Do miniature art

Miniature art can help you construct mini dioramas or tiny versions of some important moments in your life.

59. Make a timeline journal

Maintain a journal about the most important instances of your life in a journal. It is primarily a writing exercise but you can also give it a creative twist if you want.

60. Sculpt your perfect self

 This activity will help you deal with self-doubts and insecurities. Visualize your perfect self and carve it into a model with the help of clay to later reflect on it.

Art Therapy Ideas for Mental Health and Self

61. Give your fear a shape

You know what they say, if you want to deal with your fear, face it! This activity allows you to do just that.

Think of things that frighten you and give them a shape, color, or texture. Right from spiders to natural calamities, give your fear a visual representation. When you create a beast outside of you and face it heads on, it makes you a lot less fearful.  

62. Design an intention stick

Intention sticks, prayer sticks or talismans, or whatever you call it – they all have the same purpose – to give you strength and peace.

So, to capitalize on this power, find a stick that fits perfectly in your hands, and decorate it via drawing or painting mantras, quotes, or positive affirmations. You can also add strings, feathers, beads to make it attractive.

63. Draw your past-self

We have all outgrown and lost touch with some version of our past selves. In this activity, you can re-establish this touch by creating a portrait of the lost self.

Whether you are revisiting your childhood, a phase, or just miss your innocent teens – this form of expressive art improves your imagination and memory.

64. Paint a spiritual experience

If you have ever had a spiritual experience in life, you know how enlightening it feels in that brief period of time. Put this experience on paper and let your mind relive it again, only this time with a touch of art.

65. Commemorate instances where you did something brave

We all have to do things in life that we are either scared of doing or are scared of losing. However, you have to do it irrespective but, in the end, when you emerge out as a winner, there’s nothing more fulfilling.

So, in this activity, you need to document that experience in a creative way and celebrate your strength.

66. Redesign your illness into art

People suffering from a terminal illness experience mixed emotions – fear, anger, sadness, self-pity, etc. To process these feelings, you just need to imitate them into a piece of art, Use anything that you like – colors, paints, clay, etc but create something that can resonate with your illness.

67. Collage a motivational board

Take a board and fill it with all the images, quotes, pictures, personalities, experiences that motivate you. In times of darkness, a look at this will show you the light

68. Draw images of your good traits

As humans, we all have some good traits and bad traits but it’s in our nature to focus on the latter and ignore the former.

When you shift your focus to your good traits and draw images of them, it boosts positivity and helps you build a better self-image.

69. Visualize a fairy tale about yourself

Let’s admit it: We all want fairytales of our own. So, why not?

Imagine you are the protagonist of the plot and create your own happily-ever-after. You can also depict it in picture form if you want to be more creative.

70. Make a paper snowflake

Find a YouTube tutorial and start making a paper tutorial. You can also create it without any guidance, just don’t forget to write unique things about you in each one of them

Art Therapy Ideas for Gratitude

71. Make a box of forgiveness

Most of us carry resentment and lots of negative emotions in our hearts. Oftentimes, it’s so heavy that you find yourself lost.

To prevent this, try making a small box of forgiveness and write names of people you wish to forgive and drop in it. It can either be specific for someone or can also be specific to your own desired state.

72. Design a Prayer Flag

A prayer flag is a rectangular cloth hung on the ridges and mountains with prayers written in it. It is extremely liberating to send out prayers in the universe for you and your loved ones.

73. Create artworks for your loved ones

Make a list of people who matter to you and create artworks for each one of them. It can be a simple painting or even a 3D sculpture, this activity’s purpose is to acknowledge people who have made contributions to your life.

74. Draw the “anchors” of your life

An anchor is what holds the ship at the shore. Similarly, you need to identify the anchors of your life who have been keeping you together with all this while.

In the activity, take an anchor and decorate it with pictures of these people and the memories associated with them

75. Paint the things you are thankful for

Remember all the things that you are grateful for in life. Take a moment to reflect on it and paint or collage it on a piece of paper.

76. Make a gratitude tree

Create some leaves with the help of clay and then use a white pen to draw words of gratitude on it and hang them on a bare branch tree.

77. Devise a life map

Creating a life map will help you determine where you are in life and where you want to be. Use magazines, old newspapers, books to cut out pictures, quotes, or anything that can depict your life the way you want it.

78. Draw positive things

We all have good things in life. So, take a moment to reflect on it and then draw it on paper. This will help you develop a positive attitude towards life and acknowledge all the good things that have been happening to you.

79. Maintain a gratitude art journal

Begin and end your day by making artful entries in this journal. Draw, paint, sketch, paste, or maybe scribble things that you are thankful for, and make sure you do it every day. 

80. Draw a family tree

This activity allows you to create your legacy and honor them. So, create a beautiful family tree and hang it on your wall.

Art Therapy Ideas for Trauma & Loss

81. Art journal the loss

Loss can be traumatic especially when you were not expecting it. If you have been suffering through this trauma and want to process it, just journal whatever you are feeling.

82. Make your own website

This is a digital and modernized version of art. Since websites are a great way to express yourself, they will allow you to deal with things you have kept hidden for a long time.

83. Draw yourself as a warrior

Imagine yourself as a strong and capable individual who has won over this period of trauma and suffering and draw it on paper.

84. Paint with marbles

Take a rectangular or circular box, as you feel fit, and now dip some marbles in paints and drop them in this box. Now rotate or move these marbles in different directions and let the colors flow on paper.

You will find a beautiful abstract piece of a painting by the end of this activity.

85. Make some ugly art

Yes, there is something incredibly freeing about creating terrible art. It allows you to vent all the piled-up emotions. So, go ahead, pick a paper and make it as ugly as you can

86. Give shape/color to your stress

Visualize your stress like an object – give it a shape, color, pattern, or even a name if you wish to. Replicate it all on the paper and then check with yourself. How do you feel?

87. Create a comic strip

Buy a blank comic book and create a comic strip about anything. This activity combines art with humor which further relieves stress and promotes happiness.  

88. Draw Spirals

The continuity of spirals motivates you to keep moving ahead. S whenever you bump into a creative block or feel stuck, take a pen, paper and start drawing spirals.

89. Paint a Rainbow

Even though this is a very simple activity, it is extremely effective. A rainbow is a symbol of hope and faith and when you draw it during your difficult time, it reflects just more on you.

90. Use Tissue Paper

Buy a roll of tissue paper and a box of colors, now use the tissue paper to create a 3D painting. Don’t restrict yourself, let your mind run free and create anything that it wants.

Art Therapy Ideas for Relaxation

91. Make art from waste

Reuse old items that still have a meaning to you or utilize the items lying around to make a beautiful piece of art. To be able to use waste materials in something beautiful gives you a sense of fulfillment.

92. Create art from natural materials

Step outside and collect everything that you find beautiful – leaves, sticks, dirt, clay, or any other natural materials. Now create a piece of art using these – it will allow you to connect to your natural self.

93. Make crayon stained glass

Make crayon shavings and then use an iron to melt them. You will find a colorful abstract texture on paper that you can further cut into a shape that you like and then stick it on the glass window.

94. Work together

Creating art with your friends or loved ones can not only deepen your relationship but also help you create a beautiful piece of art, so find your partner and start working!

95. Explore archetypes

Archetypes derived by Carl Jung are characters that symbolically embody universal meanings and basic human experiences. So, what’s your archetype? To find out, take the quiz here.

96. Do Blot art

Take a paper and fold it in half, drop several drops of paints and colors on one half and then press both halves against each other. Now open the paper and admire the causal flow of colors and the abstract shape.

97. Practice Hand Casting

Hand casting is the art of sculpting hands, either of your own, with your partner, or even with your family.

98. Make your own artistic tool

Find something at home or create something that can be used as a paintbrush. It can be something hard or soft, doesn’t matter, what matters is that you must be able to create art with it.

99. Paint rocks

Go out in the year, collect some rocks, and paint them in a creative fashion. You can experiment with patterns and shapes to make it more fun.

100. Design a Mind Map

Mind Mapping is basically creating a visual representation of your thoughts, to understand how you work.

Now that you are convinced about the authenticity of art therapy but are seeking professional advice.

Here’s the answer for you.

How to Find an Art Therapist Near You?

To begin with, I have listed a few directories that can help you search art therapists by location or postal code:

Other than that, the internet has opened many avenues to help you seek all kinds of mental health professionals.

You must also be able to find a local art therapy association that has the contacts of all licensed professionals. But this will only be available when your state recognizes art therapy as a viable counseling option.

If you are concerned about insurance coverage of your treatment by an art therapist, it’s best to call your insurance agency and ask. It is possible that they will be able to refer you to an art therapist whose costs are covered by your insurance.

Like every other thing, even art therapy is not perfect. So here are a few…

Limitations of Art Therapy

While most research suggests positive benefits of art therapy, some of the findings are still inconclusive.  

1. Lack of faith

The effectiveness of the approach is doubted by many individuals, especially adults. They either don’t cooperate or refuse this kind of mental health treatment entirely. Additionally, there is also a lack of authoritative studies or empirical evidence that advocate for art therapy.

2. “Not” Creative block

Many individuals seeking this kind of treatment believe that they are not creative enough to be able to enjoy the benefits. Even though the core of this therapy is to help you voice your thoughts and opinions and not create artistic masterpieces, they fail to understand it.

3. Cost of materials

The costs associated with the purchase of materials, tools, and other equipment for performing suggested art therapy activities are high. Plus, the environment needed to perform certain specific techniques is also difficult to create.  

Thus, further research is required to explore the benefits of art therapy and its effectiveness against other counseling treatments.

Until this point, this article was for people seeking an understanding of art therapy, now the latter half is for people wanting to build a career in art therapy.

So, to all the enthusiasts, let’s go!

5 Art Therapy Books to Read

Books are always the greatest resource to understand a subject from its core. Bonus when it’s written by the practicing professional.

Now since you have found your interest in art therapy, begin your reading spree with this.

1. Handbook of Art Therapy – Cathy Malchiodi / Art Therapy Sourcebook

Cathy Malchiodi, a licensed and certified art therapist has compiled various books that explain the effectiveness of art therapy.

In her book, Handbook of Art Therapy, she explains the theories and approaches of art therapy and how it works with different psychologies. For people, who have a basic knowledge about art therapy, or are practicing licensed art therapists, this can be a great read.

2. Art as Therapy: Collected Papers – Edith Kramer

One of the pioneers of the field of art therapy, Edith Kramer has collected various papers in this book related to therapy, arts, society, ethology, and clinical practice.

This book is a reflection of her lifetime of work in this field. Individuals seeking a bright career in the field of art therapy must read this book. It gives you real-time insight into the personal development of some renowned and professional art therapists.

3. Art Heals – Shaun McNiff

Shaun McNiff, a credentialed art therapist has written several books on Arts and therapy including Art as Medicine, An artist’s guide of Letting Go, Art heals, etc.

In the book, Art heals he establishes a bridge between art and spirituality. He also throws light upon the psychological theory of art therapy and also shares his personal experiences as a practicing art therapist and trainer.

4. Art is a Way of Knowing – Pat Allen

This book by Pat Allen is great for everyone, artistic or not, who is willing to understand oneself more through art.

 Apart from that, she also explains her own story and experiences as a student, art therapist, wife, mother, and artist. If you are looking to get inspired by a personal story of an art therapist, this book is just for you.

5. Art and Healing – Barbara Ganim

This book by Barbara Ganim explains the connection between art and healing. She makes you believe that you don’t have to be an “artist” to tap into the power of art.

If you are struggling with any physical or mental illness and want to find the strength within, this book will guide you through all the exercises and prompts needed for self-discovery.

What does an Art Therapist Do?

Practicing art therapists, even at an entry-level at least have a master’s degree in art therapy and have studied both psychology and human development.

They understand another person’s state, and then use art as a springboard for treatment. Further, an art therapist works with all kinds of people, free of any bias and relations.

They can be complete strangers, couples, family, or groups of people related to some common ground – an art therapist is bound to offer actionable advice to everyone depending on the situation.

Art therapists also pick up the cues and nonverbal symbols that the individual seeking treatment delivers through creating art. They interpret it and then further guide them towards advanced therapy.

How to Become an Art therapist?

Art therapy though comparatively newer to other kinds of talking therapy is still very effective. Looking at the benefits and the growing faith in this therapy, it can be a bright career choice for all aspirants.

 So, if you really wish to become an art therapist, start with…

1. Do a thorough research

This is going to be a lifetime decision. So before you delve into it make sure you do thorough research about: what is art therapy, what are the regions that recognize it, what professional credentials will it require, and everything else.

But don’t just stop there, also dig into the life experiences of world-renowned art therapists, their struggles, and also find out their favorite things about the job.

2. Know about required educational standards

After the research, if you still find it the right calling for you, then start working towards it. Check with your region or state about the education, training, and other details about becoming a practicing art therapist.

For people living in the United States, here’s what you need to know:  

ATCB or Art Therapy Credentials Board allows art therapists to become registered, board-certified, or licensed art therapists depending on the residence and work location.

According to the American Art Therapy Association, you at least require a master’s degree in art therapy to be a practicing art therapist. If not, you can also be permitted to practice if you have a master’s degree in some related field along with an additional course in art therapy.

Furthermore, it also requires post-graduate supervised experience. Beyond this, you need to visit the AATA Website and check for more information.

3. Gain appropriate work experience

Once you have achieved the desired certifications, seek, and undertake opportunities that allow you to practice your education.

In the beginning, don’t worry about whether it is paid or unpaid. Consider this as your professional skill-building period. You can also seek advice from practicing experts in your field.  

4. Reach out

Now that you have the desired education and also the appropriate work experience, reach out to local hospitals, psychiatric hospitals, or communities and find out about their needs for an art therapist with your skills.  

One Last Time: Practice Art

If you are at this part of the article, I am sure you have now understood that art therapy can be performed by ANYONE.

But this think-piece is only half of the real power of art therapy.

The rest half you will understand only when you perform it yourself.

So, why not give it a try?

Will you?

Article Sources


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