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Art Therapy - Counselor Education

What, Where, Who, and Why of Art Therapy

What is Art Therapy? *

Art Therapy is a human service profession that utilizes art media, images, the creative art process and patient/client responses to the created productions as reflections of an individual’s development, abilities, personality, interests, concerns, and conflicts. Art Therapy practice is based on knowledge of human developmental and psychological theories which are implemented in the full spectrum of models of assessment and treatment including educational, psychodynamic, cognitive, transpersonal, and other therapeutic means of reconciling emotional conflicts, fostering self-awareness, developing social skills, managing behavior, solving problems, reducing anxiety, aiding reality orientation and increasing self-esteem.

Art Therapy is an effective treatment for individuals who have developmental, medical, educational, social, or psychological impairments; and is practiced in mental health, rehabilitation, medical, educational, and forensic institutions. Populations of all ages, races, and ethnic backgrounds are served by art therapists in individual, couples, family, and group therapy formats.

* Definition from the American Art Therapy Association (

Where is Art Therapy practiced?

Art therapists work in private practice or as part of a treatment team. They work in both regular and special education schools, medical and psychiatric hospitals, correctional facilities, counseling centers, prisons, substance abuse rehabilitation programs, pain clinics, halfway houses, community centers, industrial/organizational settings, nursing homes, shelters, outpatient and inpatient treatment programs, and many other settings.

Who practices Art Therapy?

Entry into the profession is at the master’s level. The American Art Therapy Association (AATA), a professional membership organization for art therapists, approves educational programs, sets ethical standards, and works to promote and empower the field of art therapy. The Art Therapy Credentials Board (ATCB) oversees the professional credentialing practice of art therapists. (See links page for more information.)

Why Art Therapy?

Art therapy offers several advantages that verbal therapy cannot. Through the creation of art, one can express thoughts, feelings, and conflicts that cannot be easily expressed through words. Those who cannot communicate effectively through other means can benefit greatly from the process. Art is a direct path to the real issues an individual is struggling with; it bypasses defenses that we use to protect or distance ourselves. The process of making art is therapeutic in itself, as the client gives symbolic shape and form to inner feelings.