Art therapy promotes healing in a positive and creative environment. Therapist Margaret Naumburg first began the combination of art and therapy in 1940, and the movement began in 1967 with the establishment of the Art Therapy Studio in Cleveland, Ohio. It remains the oldest studio of its kind in the U.S., but similar programs have popped up across the country over the last few decades. Hospitals have even taken to hiring their art therapists on staff.
The Art Therapy Studio defines art therapy as “a human service profession that uses the visual arts to communicate feelings that cannot be expressed by words alone. Clinical experience has demonstrated that the images produced in making art help externalize and resolve internalized fears, conflicts and blocks.” Here are five reasons why it’s worth learning more.
#1. The proven track record
This established form of therapy can help people from various backgrounds cope with physical or emotional challenges. For example, The American Cancer Society claims that art therapy can positively affect cancer patients when “used as complementary therapy to help survivors express their emotions.” Meanwhile, one of the most successful programs of art therapy has helped those who struggle with language. Suppose children (or even adults) struggle with pauses in speech or find it difficult to express themselves verbally at all. In that case, art therapy can work as a stepping stone by offering positive reinforcement through artistic expression.
#2. Help for people with mobility issues
The loss of mobility can be extremely debilitating to a patient’s psyche, and art therapy can help those with spinal issues and those recovering from other traumatic injuries. Many patients who are newly disabled (even temporarily) feel deeply discouraged by the loss of mobility, but artistic expression can alter such feelings of despair. More importantly, the immobile will find that they are still, in fact, mobile in many ways. These individuals can still create, which can lead to an uplifting sense of accomplishment.
#3. The power of expression for children
Even before children become literate, they can already express themselves through art. Some children who suffer a kind of trauma at a young age may have an easier time using their creations to communicate ideas and emotions they may not yet fully understand. This gives professionals insight into how the child is feeling without the need for words.
When it comes to young audiences, The Art Therapy Studio in Cleveland typically “helps abused children express themselves without words, helps children with autism relate to the world around them, increases social and communication skills, increases attention span and ability to stay focused on a task, decreases autistic child’s level of self-stimulation, and encourages children to learn with tactile, colorful art materials.”
#4. Healing for veterans
Art therapy programs are particularly relevant healing practices in the current period. The U.S. and its allies are returning from war, with many soldiers coping with serious injuries or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
This form of therapy was offered to WWII veterans in 1945
in the Winter VA Hospital of Topeka, Kansas, and there have been many success stories from veterans since then. In 2007, the Washington Post published an article about a new veteran, Eric Edmonson, who suffered severe brain damage from a bomb in Iraq at age 26. While he can no longer walk, feed himself, or communicate verbally, Edmonson can express himself by holding a paintbrush to canvas.
#5. Increasingly comprehensive training programs
Art therapists must have extensive studies in both art and psychology to work with patients, which requires a master’s degree and PhD. The number of art therapy programs continues to grow nationally in universities each year, with English-speaking programs offered in Australia, Canada, and Europe. Certified art therapists must pass the board exam and continue to keep their certification up-to-date.
There are entire studios, like the Art Therapy Studio, dedicated solely to art therapy programs. However, many hospitals are now creating their divisions of art therapy and have their art therapists on staff. Some of the most effective partnerships are between hospitals and studios with experience in art therapy and psychology. Hospitals can diagnose exactly what type of trauma or injury has occurred, while hospital administration and medical professionals can refer patients to art therapists with well-established success rates. Therefore, patients will always be in good hands.