Art Therapy for Mental Wellness

-Guest blog by Jennifer L. Lawrence, LPC, ATR-BC

Art therapy is a powerful tool in anyone’s mental wellness toolbox. It can support any level of wellness: self-improvement, dealing with life challenges, and/or mental health.

The American Art Therapy Association defines art therapy as:

“an integrative mental health and human services profession that enriches the lives of individuals, families, and communities through active art-making, creative process, applied psychological theory, and human experience within a psychotherapeutic relationship.

Art Therapy, facilitated by a professional art therapist, effectively supports personal and relational treatment goals as well as community concerns. Art Therapy is used to improve cognitive and sensory-motor functions, foster self-esteem and self-awareness, cultivate emotional resilience, promote insight, enhance social skills, reduce and resolve conflicts and distress, and advance societal and ecological change.” (arttherapy.org)

Creativity is our birth right, no matter where we fall on the spectrum of mental health. The desire for order during periods of confusion drives us to make marks, explore color, and experience this creative impulse. Constructing something out of nothing allows us to make sense of both our internal and external worlds.

Art as Therapy versus Art Therapy

When using art as a tool for mental wellness, there are two paths to consider. “Art as therapy” can help anyone access a sense of understanding and wellness simply from using art materials in an art making or crafting experience. Sometimes this is done in the presence of an art therapist, but it can also be self-directed, done in a studio session or guided by an artist. This approach shifts the focus from merely aesthetic to one that fully encompasses an intention for self-reflection as well as attention to what the maker experiences during the process of art making.

“Art therapy,” on the other hand, is only done in the presence of a master-level trained art therapist who has met rigorous supervision requirements. Art therapist are fully educated mental health therapists who integrate art materials and processes into treatment. Art therapists comply both with the Art Therapy Credentials Board Code of Ethics (actb.org) and with state licensure and consumer protection requirements. Art therapy implies a specific kind of professional relationship, one that is therapeutic in nature with guidelines and boundaries.

Whether you engage in a practice of art-making for self-exploration, have found benefit from making art in a community setting, or are working on specific treatment goals with an art therapist, art-making and art therapy are invaluable tools for connecting with one’s inherent mental wellness.

Here are some ideas for using art materials as a wellness tool:

  • Think about art materials as if they were food. Choose only the materials that seem the most nourishing to you, rather than some idea of what you “should” be doing to make “real” art. If glitter stickers and neon gel pens make you smile, go for it!!
  • When sitting down to use art materials, consider your intention. Do you want to release pent-up energy? Are you looking for soothing? Do you want to gain insight or a different perspective for something you are dealing with? Allow the colors in your materials to speak to and follow their lead. Soften into your body and just let it move while you make lines or work clay. Again, don’t try to make anything, just see what emerges from your intention.
  • Short on time? Work with small paper or small boxes. Or, keep a deck of art prints, a box of collage images, or even a basket of textured nature items. Spend a few moments simply connecting to the imagery and/or textures.

 

Jennifer L. Lawrence, LPC, ATR-BC lives in New Jersey with her husband and daughter. She’s passionate about exploring the rhythms of nature and gathering wisdom about how they can inform a life well-lived. You can learn more about her work at jenniferlawrencearttherapy.com or on Instagram @mandalasformamas.

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