For well over 100 years now, therapists have been using art as a way to help people with psychiatric disorders, including Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), express themselves in ways where words might not be as effective.
Since its formal inception, two different types of general art therapy have been defined. The first sees art as therapy, and refers to a belief in the healing power of the creative process. It is believed that art and the creative process used to create the art are seen as opportunities to not only express oneself creatively, but to visually tap into feelings and thoughts that might be difficult to express otherwise.
The second general definition of art therapy is often referred to as art psychotherapy, wherein art is seen as a form of symbolic communication between the artist and those around them. The art is seen as important in communicating thoughts, feelings, conflicts, and other issues that might be harder to express in words.
Typically, a traditional art therapist will use both of these methods, depending on the needs of the patient.
What Makes a Good Art Therapist?
The profession of art therapist became formalized around 1940. Since then, governing bodies have been established to oversee the standards to which art therapists are held.
The first is the Art Therapy Credentials Board (ATCB), which strives to get art therapists certified once they reach the graduate level of their education. The American Art Therapy Association (AATA) promotes the established standards art therapists are required to maintain.
A qualified art therapist, no matter what the setting, will have at least a master’s-level education in art therapy. He or she will be also trained and have experience in recognizing meanings, metaphors, and symbols that come out during the creative process.
Art therapists are typically trained in various assessment techniques, such as:
- The Diagnostic Drawing Series: A series of interviews wherein the patient draws several images and is assessed based on their use of shapes, colors, and lines.
- House–Tree–Person: The patient is asked to draw three distinct images — a house, a tree, and a person — and then asked relevant questions based on the specifics of each drawing, like the person’s age or type of house.
- Road Drawing: The patient is asked to draw a road, which when fleshed out will become a “road of life.” Drawing the road has been shown to bring about spontaneous imagery that can help the art therapist narrow down specific issues to discuss.
These are just some of the ways to make sure the art therapist you see is well trained and well qualified to treat you.
Benefits of Art Therapy
Art therapy can be used with many different types of people, in a wide variety of settings, using all different types of materials. The versatility available to art therapists and their patients allows the therapist to better gear their sessions and materials toward each individual patient. By allowing patients to communicate non-verbally at their own pace, art therapy gives patients a comfortable setting in which to express themselves.
Many people who have suffered from trauma, and find the details, the issues, and the results hard to talk about verbally can also benefit from art therapy because it allows them to communicate what they are thinking and feeling in a variety of non-verbal ways. Art therapists can recognize the way patients use such techniques as shapes, lines, and colors to help them diagnose specific issues patients have.
Should You Try Art Therapy?
This really depends on your needs. If you are having problems communicating verbally or in written form, art therapy might be useful.
You don’t need to have good artistic skills — or any at all — to participate in art therapy sessions. A good, qualified art therapist has been trained to see things in the art you produce that will help them lead you to more positive mental health.