“How much art do we do in an art session?”
I frequently receive this question when I speak with potential art therapy clients. They typically have no idea what to expect in a session.
I appreciate their questions because it’s an opportunity to provide clarity and share more about how art therapy is different from talk therapy.
Art therapy does not simply mean doing art in a therapy session. There is far more going on behind the scenes than clients and other traditional talk therapists are aware of:
As art therapists, we are trained to:
Select appropriate mediums and materials to use for each client and the topic that we are addressing
For example, fluid materials such as paint may not be appropriate for someone who currently feels flooded and overwhelmed
Observe the client’s interaction with the art and glean important insights about their inner world
Draw parallels between the client’s interaction with the art and their interaction with the world
For example, if a client is working on a piece and continuously remarks, “I’m not sure I’m doing this right,” I often investigate how that shows up in their life
Watch for important symbols and patterns that recur throughout artwork
Integrate multiple mediums, such as painting with music, or writing a poem in response to a piece of art
Assist our clients to dialogue with their art and receive their own messages from it
Allow our clients to be present with the art and the process, instead of solely focused on the outcome
Understand the timing and pace of art making so that we don’t have to abruptly cut a client off
How to appropriately conclude after art making so that a client is not left feeling raw
As art therapists, we also rely on our education to know appropriate art therapy assessments and directives that would most benefit clients. When we select an art project for our client, they often don’t know that we are drawing from hundreds of options in our mind to select the perfect fit for them.
In addition to all of this, my entire art therapy studio is designed for art therapy. From the location of the table (in the corner so clients feel safe) to the seating options (multiple options that include sturdy chairs with no arms so that any body size can fit) to the placement of art materials (I visually display items that I want the client to choose and tuck away others that I only want to selectively use) - everything is designed with art therapy in mind. I have a wall for hanging their works so we can discuss them. I have plenty of floor space so people can utilize the floor when needed.
Everything is designed to be of benefit to a client and help them benefit from therapy. In this, art therapy is similar to talk therapy. All forms of therapy are designed to benefit the client.
What differs is the approach and the training of the therapist.
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