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Trauma Healing Center

What is Art Therapy? 


What do you think of when you hear the term “Art Therapy”? Adult coloring books? Sip  and paint parties? Unfortunately, there is a lack of awareness and understanding about the profession and practice of Art Therapy. Many people think it is something only for  children, but it is actually helpful for people of all ages. Also, there is no need for artistic  skills or abilities to benefit from Art Therapy.  

According to the American Art Therapy Association: 

“Art therapy is 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 sensorimotor 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.” (American Art Therapy Association, 2022).

While art-making can be “relaxing” at times, that is not necessarily the point. Art allows  for communication of thoughts, emotions, and concepts that can be difficult to fully put  into words. As with dreams and story-telling, metaphor and symbolism often come into  the art therapy process. In their training, Art Therapists learn about developmental  

stages of drawing, which can be useful for assessing cognitive and emotional  development. Though Art therapists use art therapy assessments to gather further  information about clients, it is not possible, nor appropriate to try and diagnose or make  assumptions about clients from drawings alone. Art therapy assessments are used in  conjunction with other psychological assessments, observations within therapeutic  interactions, and information provided by the client. 

Art therapists work within a realm of continuums. Different art materials have different  qualities, which can elicit different reactions or internal processes within clients.  Sometimes, clients need the therapist to be more direct; other times clients benefit  from the therapist stepping back to allow space for the client’s natural process to unfold.  In order to skillfully and safely guide clients through the art therapy process, the art  therapist needs to be attuned to the best selection and approach to implement at any  given time with the client(s) in the session.  


Art therapy tends to be helpful in the treatment of trauma for several reasons. Trauma  research has shown that traumatic memories often get stored in the right side of the  brain, which correlates with images, the senses, the body, the subconscious, etc. Art making is image-based, engages the senses, involves movement of the body, rhythm,  and allows for symbolic/metaphoric expression, etc. Emotions may be easier to express  through color, line, movement, pressure, etc. The art therapy process can lead to 

catharsis and sublimation, which is difficult to replicate within a talk therapy frame and  often involves use of the more malleable materials and requires proper containment. Art  therapy can be uniquely beneficial to exposure therapy. If clients draw an image relating  to a traumatic event, they receive a level of distancing as the image is on a paper  outside of their mind/body and can be witnessed alongside the art therapist. Verbal  processing after image-making helps bridge the left and right hemispheres of the brain  leading to increased integration, insight, and meaning-making. When clients create  artwork about a traumatic event, they are in control of the art materials and what they  choose to express, which can provide a level of safety and security. 

Art therapists are master-level clinicians with thorough training in art, psychology, art  therapy, and have completed internships and many post-graduate client contact hours,  specifically practicing art therapy and under the supervision of a credentialed Art  Therapist. Credential holders include Registered Art Therapists (ATR) and Board Certified Art therapists (ATR-BC). Please seek out qualified Art Therapists to ensure  what you are receiving is actually Art Therapy, for your own privacy and benefit. 

If you are interested in learning more about Art Therapy, please visit the following websites: 


Allen, P. 9 (2005). Art is a Spiritual Path. Shambhala

American Art Therapy Association. (2022). About Art Therapy. American Art Therapy  Association.

Contact Us Today

Serenity Trauma Healing Center is state- and JCAHO-accredited to provide a multitude of proven psychotherapy services to clients with diverse backgrounds and experiences. Our programs include weekly evaluations and start at two weeks long but can continue for timeframes recommended by our licensed experts. We accept many insurance plans. To discuss your situation and learn more about our treatment options, contact us immediately online or at the numbers below.