Why therapy? Why Art therapy? Where do I start, and what do I ask? Finding the right avenue for creative expression in mental health can be overwhelming. People often find themselves stuck, here at Pacific. MFT network, our clinicians are ready and excited to share and explore things together.
Here are some helpful questions to ask an art therapist answered by our very own Angela miller.
Q. What are the advantages of art therapy over conventional psychotherapy?
I think we have all found at times that words fall short, may feel unsatisfying, or not be available when emotions feel big, intense, or too much. In art therapy, we use various art media to express the essence of emotions & experiences. Making art in a therapy session provides a much-needed reflective space to work outside the confines of words to more richly express yourself using color, texture, shape, positioning, and dimensionality.
Making art provides the client and art therapist with an additional tool for communication. I think of it as another language, a language unique to that client. I support my client in uncovering, developing, speaking, and comprehending something unique within themselves. I am perpetually awestruck when I see a client's art unfold. Watching a client's process and seeing their final art "product" allows me to understand them more fully, more than I ever could with words alone. I get a "felt sense" of what they are experiencing. Art enriches my appreciation of my client in a profound way.
It's great for the brain! The process of making art engages our creative problem-solving skills, lighting up new neural pathways. Studies show that the creative process lowers stress and anxiety, allowing us to feel relaxed, calmer, happier - who couldn't use more of that?
When things feel out of control, making art allows you to outwardly organize what may feel like chaos inside. When you feel boxed in, making art allows you to loosen up what feels too restrictive inside. It's a tangible way of connecting to and managing intangibles in our lives.
The sensory experience of making art can feel satisfying and pleasurable, which is such a help when we are exploring emotional wounds. Focus shifts from the intensity of the pain to a more satisfying sensory experience. When the art is complete, we talk about it and the process, which can provide the distance and perspective one needs to look at difficult circumstances in a new way.
At the end of treatment, the client's art is evidence of the challenging inner work they did over the course of their treatment. It's their personal historical record of their courage to face fears, their willingness to explore their inner and outer worlds, and evidence of their unique mark and place in the world.
It is important to work with a trained art therapist, someone with a background & education specifically aimed at using art in therapeutic contexts. Art therapists can help guide you with materials more attuned to your needs, encourage you to explore things you otherwise may not consider and support you in conscientiously exploring the meaning in your art.
Q. What does a typical session look like?
Sessions vary from person to person, day to day. One client may make art each session, while another may do it only occasionally. Art-making may last a few minutes or the full session, depending upon what is needed that day. Materials may include collage materials (like magazine images and words, decorative papers, adhesives, office supplies), dry or oil pastels and paper, varieties of paint (like watercolor, gouache, acrylic), charcoals, colored pencils, markers, found objects (like recycled or natural materials), fabric, yarn or string...the list is as expansive as the client, and I are resourceful.
Q. What are some common misconceptions about art therapy?
Common misconceptions: you have to identify as an artist or a very creative person to do art therapy; art therapy is only for children; art therapy is like an art class. I think people, particularly adults, may feel intimidated because they have limited or no formal visual art training. That's okay! If you have even the slightest curiosity and willingness, that's the "starter kit" you need. Our group practice can provide the starter art supplies. It is important to know that the art-making process is just as, if not at times more important than the final art piece or product. It's not about making pretty art for walls. It's about exploring, releasing, and dialoguing with your imagery to more deeply & meaningfully understand & love yourself so that you can make more informed & confident choices in your life.
Q. What is something you would say to a person who is interested in a session?
I LOVE ART THERAPY. Being able to witness a person and support their healing with creative means is a true honor and a joy.
Registered Associate Marriage & Family Therapist #100328
Supervised by Kristina Mazic, LMFT #49314