A picture says a thousand words, so why waste time talking to a psychologist when you could instead be drawing pictures and showing them to an Art Therapist? Art Therapists are trained in interpreting what we reveal about ourselves through creative expression. They can guide the process of healing, growth and self-exploration that creative activity brings. By resolving your internal conflicts through Art Therapy, you can heal yourself not only psychologically, but also physically. A deep seated internal conflict could be preventing your body from healing itself, so what better way to shed light on the forces that lurk deep within than through creative expression?
Although the healing power of creative expression has been known since time immemorial, it was in the early part of the 20th century that Art Therapy emerged as a profession. Psychiatrists were interested in the artwork created by their patients and educators were studying how a child’s emotional, developmental and cognitive growth were reflected in their artistic endeavours. By the mid 20th century, Art Therapy programs were offered widely in hospitals and clinics, accompanying traditional “talk therapies”. In the United States the American Art Therapy Association (AATA) emerged as the major Art Therapy organisation. It currently boasts over 5000 members and is one of the largest of the many international counterparts located across the globe.
There are many psychological assessments that employ art-making so as to allow for a person’s mental function to be examined. An early Art Therapy assessment developed by Florence Goodenough was called the Draw-A-Man Test, and was intended to test the intellectual development of children. A child would be asked to draw a picture of a man; Goodenough theorised that the level of detail a child was able to incorporate into their picture was demonstrative of their intellectual capacity.
The Mandala Assessment Research Instrument (MARI) is another common Art Therapy assessment. A person is asked to select a card from a deck containing different mandalas, geometric designs of Hindu origin, and next is asked to choose a colour from a set of coloured cards. The patient then draws the chosen mandala utilising a crayon of the same colour shown on the second card. Once the patient has finished creating their mandala, the Art Therapist will begin exploring the meanings, experiences and related information that the patient incorporated into it. Joan Kellog developed MARI believing that a person’s mandala will reveal much about their current psychological condition.
In the House-Tree-Person assessment, a patient draws a picture containing a person, a tree and a house. The Art Therapist will then ask the patient questions such as, “What is the house made of? How old is the person? What is the weather like in the picture?” The Art Therapist, being experienced in running the assessment, is able to discern much about what the patient is saying about him or herself through their artwork.
Art Therapy is excellent for people who have difficulty communicating verbally, such as young children, people with acquired brain-damage and people exhibiting behavioural disorders such as autism. People who are fully capable of verbal communication, but who over-verbalise, blocking their true thoughts and feelings, will also benefit from Art Therapy. Even people without mental or physical illness may benefit from Art Therapy as nobody can know for sure where the path of self exploration will lead them. The artwork itself becomes a confidential record of a person’s psychological state. A professional art therapist provides a safe non-threatening environment in which people can explore their issues without being constrained by verbal language. Trusted practitioners will possess a Post-Graduate Diploma or Masters Degree in Art Therapy.