What Is Art Therapy? Art Therapy Definition

Art therapy sounds self-explanatory, but it is more in-depth than most people realize. Read about art therapy and it’s benefits on HealthyPlace.

Art therapy is a form of psychotherapy that encourages free self-expression through artistic exercises such as drawing, painting or modeling. Art therapists work with a broad spectrum of patients, including children, teenagers, adults and the elderly. Art therapy can often prove to be effective where other forms of therapy and communication are not. It is used to treat a variety of behavioral or mental health conditions, as well as disabilities and neurological disorders. The link between neuroscience and art therapy has been well-established, and a diverse number of patients have benefited from this practice.

Art Therapy Explained: What Is Art Therapy and Who Is It for?

Art therapy is a therapeutic technique rooted in the idea that creative expression can help people heal and improve their mental wellbeing. It can be used to help people communicate with their therapists, overcome stress and explore and understand different aspects of their personalities and behavioral traits.

According to modern psychology, the term "art therapy" is used to describe the act of artistic methods to treat a range of mental health disorders and conditions. It can be applied to many situations and settings, such as:

Art therapy is typically practiced in:

  • Schools
  • Hospitals
  • Domestic violence shelters
  • Private mental health clinics
  • Community organizations
  • One-to-one patient therapy

Art therapy is not just for artists or people with creative skills; it can be practiced by anyone. The practice has also evolved over time to reflect the cultural and social diversity of the people who engage with it. Art therapy was first founded on the belief that creative processes and artistic self-expression can help people develop their interpersonal skills, reduce stress, manage mood fluctuations and resolve conflict.

How Does Art Therapy Work?

So, how does art therapy work exactly? As you might imagine, there are no clear boundaries around how patients use artistic self-expression, though different techniques may be explored according to the patient and situation. Opportunities for self-expression in art therapy may include painting, drawing, sculpture or collage.

In most cases, art therapy is focused on the inner experience – your thoughts and feelings rather than what is happening around you.

Although it is grounded in psychoanalysis, art therapy is also influenced by other modes of therapy, such as attachment theory and humanistic therapy. It also has roots in mindfulness, compassion-focused therapy and cognitive practices.

What Are the Benefits of Art Therapy?

According to the Priory Group, the benefits of art therapy for mental health include:

  • The ability to express inner feelings: Creating art with a therapist can be a valuable way of expressing thoughts and emotions that are too complex or difficult to talk about. Many people find creativity helps them see their problems more clearly so that they can consider and address them.
  • Recognition of personal growth and inner strength: Art gives you a platform from which to speak, which not only increases self-esteem, but it also helps you recognize your strengths, achievements and the experiences which have shaped you.
  • Coming to terms with chronic or life-limiting illness: One of the major benefits of art therapy is that it helps people work through the impact of chronic illness or disability on their emotional and practical lives.

When it comes to achieving the full benefits of art therapy, talent and prior skill aren't important. Art therapy is incredibly flexible and can be applied to many different situations. Your therapist will guide you through the process and help you find connections to your art that bring meaning and understanding to your life.

article references

APA Reference
Smith, E. (2019, August 18). What Is Art Therapy? Art Therapy Definition, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 15 from

Last Updated: October 15, 2019

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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