What is Art Therapy, Exactly?

Updated: Jan 15



Art Therapy, despite its broad application and unique qualities, continues to be a field that is relatively unknown or misunderstood by the general public. It is defined by the American Art Therapy Association 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...". Yes, this is a short and also broad definition of the field, but there are so many applications for this work that it is difficult to capture the true richness in only a sentence or two.


There a few things we think are especially important to highlight in briefly explaining art therapy:


1. Art Therapy is appropriate for any age group.

People often assume that Art Therapists serve children only, yet the non-verbal, creative, and symbolic strengths of the work are helpful for people of all ages.

2. Art Therapy is not one thing.

Depending on the setting and participants, Art Therapy can be approached and implemented in different ways. At its most basic, there are two constructs that can be helpful in understanding Art Therapy.


At Render, we engage with the work in a way that reflects more of an "art as therapy" approach, which is based in the understanding that creative involvement and making art benefits mental and physical health.


There is also an approach to Art Therapy which is commonly referred to as "art psychotherapy". This refers to the idea that art holds symbols and meaning, and can be used as a tool for personal insight and awareness, or communication of a specific experience.


These two approaches rarely operate totally in isolation, and there is often overlap, although setting and the Art Therapist's orientation likely impact the application of art as therapy and/or art psychotherapy. There is debate within the field about whether these categories are even appropriate, but we still think they can be helpful, especially as the field continues to be more understood.


3. Art Therapy is a regulated field that requires extensive training and is supported by growing research.


Art Therapy practice, no matter what approach the Art Therapist is using, is based in research, theory, training and technique that are specifically designed to support the health and wellbeing of those who are engaging with the work.


Registered, Board Certified, and Licensed Art Therapists are required to complete a Master's Degree in Art Therapy as well as practicum hours, post-graduate hours, and a Board Certification Exam. Most MA programs cover the same information that Social Workers and Licensed Professional Counselors complete, as well as art therapy theory and integrative applications.


Art Therapy is distinct from art education or other arts engagement in the approach and focus, although Art Therapists recognize that those kinds of offerings often do impact the health and wellbeing of participants. We were excited to see that the state of Oregon passed an Art Therapy License into law in 2019, which can help the public understand who has the training and qualifications to practice Art Therapy.


Art Therapy is an amazing field (yes we're biased) because it can be implemented and accessed in so many ways, but that can also make it more difficult to understand. We hope this helps, and thank you for taking the time to learn more about this resource!


We hope to see you in the studio soon!

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1705 NW Kearney Street Portland OR, 97209

971.339.9155

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