Art Therapy: NOT just for Kids

Art Therapy is for clients of all ages to gain a new perspective of their thoughts, feelings, and experiences through self-expression.


“Imagination, it turns out, is healthy for the brain.” ~ Lynn Kapitan, Ph.D., ATR-BC


A lot of people are very unfamiliar with Art Therapy, or they have their own ideas as to what it is. The following are some responses to common misconceptions I have heard while working as a Therapist and Art Therapist:


As an Art Therapist, I hear a lot “so you’re an Art Therapist, so you work with only kids?” This is not true. While I do have child clients, clients of all ages can benefit from Art Therapy. Adults can gain access to their unconscious material through Art Therapy a little bit more easily than children because they have a greater insight. Adults can also have fun through creative means, something which a lot of adults don’t take the time to do.


Art Therapy is NOT just crafts or coloring books


While the act of crafting, coloring, and making art can have many different therapeutic benefits, such as sensory and self-soothing experiences, there is a side of Art Therapy in which the client and therapist can process the artwork. This process is very meaningful as it can access some unconscious thoughts and feelings that the clients may need to process.


Art Therapist do NOT interpret the artwork


A common misconception that I hear a lot as an Art Therapist is people assume I interpret people’s artwork. However, it is the other way around. The client/artist is the expert in their own artwork, and they talk about what they created and what they see. The Art Therapist assists in facilitating the conversation with questions, connections to past artwork or life experiences, etc.


Art Therapy is NOT just for artists or people with artistic skills


Frequently, whenever I talk about Art Therapy, I hear “oh that is not for me, I am really bad at art.” This is a huge misconception about Art Therapy! Art Therapy does not take any artistic skill or talent. It only takes an open mind and willingness to try it! The Art Therapist can guide the client if they are uncomfortable with the materials.


Art Therapy can NOT be conducted by anyone other than an Art Therapist


To engage in Art Therapy, it requires a properly trained Art Therapist. Art Therapists are trained in art making, mental health, and therapy/counseling at a Masters Level. Art Therapists are trained on how to pair Art Therapy directives with the individual needs of the clients to work towards treatment goals. Art Therapists are trained on how to talk about the artwork with the client. To become an Art Therapist, one needs to complete a graduate program, then complete the supervision hours after graduation. To become a Board Certified Registered Art Therapist (ATR-BC), the Art Therapist must pass the Art Therapy Credentials Board Examination (ATCBE).


Facts about Art Therapy


What Is Art Therapy?


Art Therapy is for clients of all ages to gain a new perspective of their thoughts, feelings, and experiences through self-expression. By inviting the creative process into sessions, clients can use art to gain deeper meaning, a different perspective, and insight into their problems.


Art Therapy is very beneficial in the treatment of trauma due to the sensory aspects of making art, involving many parts of the brain. It can be helpful to break down Art Therapy into its main aspects:

  • Art as Therapy:

  • Art making (or any creativity) in a safe environment (coloring, knitting, painting, etc) is therapeutic and beneficial because it can be a sensory experience and a self-soothing practice, as well as cathartic.


  • Art Psychotherapy:

  • The verbal processing of the finished artwork can help a client to process trauma, thoughts, and feelings, as well as gain self-awareness.

  • Art can allow a client to view their experiences or their feelings from a different perspective.

  • Art created in Art Therapy sessions can be metaphoric for the client’s unresolved issues, whether conscious or unconscious.


What to Expect From an Art Therapy Session


Each session, just like each client, is very different. A client can engage in an art directive of their own choosing, or the therapist can suggest a directive. Art making does not happen every session. Sometimes clients can engage in the creative processes of writing or talking in metaphors without actually making art. Clients are always welcome to talk or stay silent while making art. It is whatever is best for the client.

A quick recap of Art Therapy: Art Therapy is people of ALL AGES. Art Therapy brings the creative process into therapy sessions, and it requires NO artistic skill or talent! It is also beneficial in helping with trauma.

A great way to know if Art Therapy is for you is to schedule a session with me. I’m a Board Certified Registered Art Therapist (ATR-BC) at Westmoreland Psychotherapy Associates and I would love to work with you!


Jennifer Barker

Licensed Professional Counselor, MA, LPC, ATR-BC