Photo of an artists pallet full of colours with the Ability Links Logo below and Art Therapy with Az above it.

What is art psychotherapy, and how does it work?


Art psychotherapy is a form of art therapy that combines art-making with more traditional  psychotherapy techniques in order to explore and express thoughts, feelings and emotions. Art psychotherapy is performed by a trained art therapist, it is not an art class or a recreational art activity so requires particular training in art psychotherapeutic techniques. 


It uses art as the primary form of communication and verbal communication is secondary to the art, which means that art therapy can be particularly helpful for people who struggle to express themselves verbally. The art can be used as a springboard for verbal communication, providing a talking point and allowing people a safe way to express themselves. While verbal communication can aid in the therapeutic process it is not required.


As a participant,  art therapy does not require previous experience in art or any specific level of artistic skill. Artistic expression can be meaningful at any stage of development even if the person is unable to do representational or symbolic artwork. An art therapist is not diagnosing their clients based on their artwork or making aesthetic judgements, whether the art looks “good” or not does not matter in art psychotherapy. Instead art therapy is about what the art is communicating and the meaning behind the work. An art therapist generally will not assume what something means and will instead turn to the client and find out what it means to them.

There are different approaches to art psychotherapy, such as; psychodynamic, psychoanalytic, person-centred, gestalt, cognitive behavioural, dialectical behavioural, and many more. I personally use a combination of the person centred approach, the positive art therapy approach and techniques from cognitive behavioural therapy and dialectical behavioural therapy. The person centred approach, is where you follow the client wherever they are leading you and treat them with empathy while being honest and open yourself. The positive art therapy approach is strengths based and seeks to find the good in someone’s situation, I also incorporate solutions focused therapy where we look for solutions together to increase well-being and positive outcomes. Cognitive and dialectical behavioural therapy are ways of reframing the way you think and behave in response to stressors and seeks to find the root cause of thoughts, feelings, emotions and behaviours, while also solving problems practically step by step. 


Personally I prefer to have a short chat at the beginning of a session to see what we might be working on and prompt thought before the art-making, then we move into art-making, I tend to chat during the art-making period but some art therapists prefer silent reflective art-making, and after the art making we may reflect on the art and what its brought up. However I am flexible to what the participant wants and needs in their therapy. 


The art mediums that I offer for art-making in the studio include; fine art pencils, artist watercolours, chalk pastels, a variety of markers, crayons, collage materials, a variety of textiles, found objects, crafting materials, digital graphics software, 3d printing, laser cutting and engraving, use of the cricut digital die cutting machine and sublimation printing. Incorporating technology into art therapy is something I am passionate about but I am also well-versed in traditional media, whatever type of art you prefer I am happy to facilitate you exploring your inner world through that medium.


Picture: Tiarna, our Art Therapy Master
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Tiarna Cunial
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