It only takes a quick search for “art therapy” on Psychology Today to see that many MANY therapists say they provide art therapy.
When asked by Psychology today to check off the therapeutic techniques they use, many therapists think, “Sure, I ask people to draw on occasion” or “I encourage them to do art.” And then they check “art therapy.”
The trouble with this is they are providing a diluted form of art therapy. Some would even argue they are not providing art therapy at all. Art therapy requires a master’s level education that provides a foundation in art therapy techniques, art therapy assessments, art therapy modalities, and more.
When a client comes to my art therapy studio, the entire physical environment and meeting are designed for them to have an art therapy experience. It shapes EVERYTHING we do.
An individual who wants art therapy may not know the difference between me, an Art Therapist (ATR), and another talk therapist who says they provide “art therapy.” The public does not know the difference between credentials and experience. They do not know that if they go to the other therapist, they will likely be talking the majority of the time and the amount of art in a session will be minimal or more so directed by the client.
It is not the public’s fault.
This is why many art therapists push for title protection and licensure within states (you can read more about that in my essay The Great Debate Around Art Therapy Licensure).
However, title protection does not fully resolve the problem. There is not enough education and understanding about art therapy within the mental health field, regardless of the laws in place.
For example, in Arizona, “art therapist” has title protection. This means that an individual must have a masters level education in art therapy to use that title. However, a cursory review of Psychology Today will show that therapists still use the title without the proper credentials or education.
I think they genuinely do not know.
I also know that when I first began my education in art therapy, I contributed to the problem.
I wasn’t very impressed by my graduate education in art therapy. When I started the program, the model at the time was mentored courses. I was excited for one-on-one conversations with instructors and a “high touch” learning experience. Turns out, “mentored” meant I was assigned books and papers to write, sometimes never speaking once to the professor outside of reviewing my papers.
I was upset that I was paying over $2000 for a class when I could have just read the books on my own time and had the equivalent educational experience.
I was receiving diluted art therapy. It was just words on a page with no connection.
This is what many individuals do not understand about art therapy - the THERAPIST is key. The attunement, connection, and guidance from a therapist is what takes it from “therapeutic art making” to art therapy.
I did not understand that in my graduate training because I did not get to experience that. I vented my frustrations and viewpoints to other therapists and people interested in pursuing art therapy.
I shared what I knew at the time, and in doing so, also diluted and tarnished the name of art therapy.
When I had about one year left in my program, my college decided to scrap the mentor model and hired a new art therapy director to revamp the art therapy. It was a refreshing and needed change.
I began to interact with professors and fellow art therapy students in ways I never had before. Slowly, art therapy came alive for me. I began to understand all that it was and all that it could be.
I had more and more conversations with excellent art therapy supervisors about how I could bring more art into my therapy sessions at my internship. I had more and more conversations about how I could develop my identity as an art therapist.
When I graduated, I decided to open my own art therapy private practice, and ensured I had a supervisor who would enable me to continue developing my art therapy skills and art therapy identity.
I now view art therapy with far more respect and understanding than at the beginning of my graduate education.
I now understand what a disservice it is for untrained therapists to offer “art therapy” to individuals who have no idea that they will receive a service that is not that.
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