What is Art Therapy?

"Art therapy combines the creative process and psychotherapy, facilitating self-exploration and understanding. Using imagery, colour and shape as part of this creative therapeutic process, thoughts and feelings can be expressed that would otherwise be difficult to articulate."
Canadian Art Therapy Association

As an art therapist and a psychotherapist, I provide a safe, respectful and supportive space for youth and young adults to think, feel and explore. Sessions can include clay, collage, paint, pencil crayons and other materials, but can also include writing, or simply talking. Sessions can include some quiet moments too.

Studies have shown that just creating images with art materials is therapeutic, decreasing anxiety and regulating emotions, but often sessions include using the images as a guide for exploring feelings, challenging assumptions and discovering inner strengths. The images created can also serve as a way to connect and communicate with parents, spouses and other important people in one's life. In addition, art therapy is an effective companion to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, providing tangible coping strategies and tools.

A summary of the benefits

Art therapy invites exploration

Art therapy provides a sense of control

Art therapy helps with understanding & communicating

Art therapy offers a break

What does scientific research say about art therapy?

Neurological research has demonstrated art therapy's ability to reduce anxiety and regulate emotions. Art therapy sessions can reduce activity in the amygdala, lessening fear and anxiety, while increasing pre-frontal cortex activity – the regulator of emotions. Neurological research also specifically demonstrates that art therapy taps into the relaxation response.

Normally the sub cortical regions (nonverbal, non-conscious areas of brain) that hold trauma don't communicate with the frontal lobes (reasoning part of brain). Art therapy allows a connection between the two areas of brain, so expressing and processing can happened concurrently with thinking and reasoning. This allows for the possibility of a shift; emotions and thoughts that are rigid can become unstuck.

In a systematic review of 8 randomized control studies regarding art therapy all but one study demonstrated beneficial effects. Biomedical studies have also demonstrated art therapy's ability to lessen pain and anxiety while having a beneficial effect on the immune system.

The International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (ISTSS) maintains that art therapy can be effective in the treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The ISTSS position emphasizes the connection between art therapy and the brain, touching on the manner in which the brain processes traumatic events and the potential for reparation through art therapy and other creative art therapies.

Citations available upon request.