5 Art Therapy Misconceptions

Hello there!

Previously, I posted a link to a video put forth by the American Art Therapy Association. In case you didn't see it, my post said this: 

"Art therapy is not coloring books or using art and creativity in a standard therapy session. It's a creative process for a client... in safe and confidential setting... in the context of a therapeutic relationship developed over time with a credentialed Art Therapist."

Well... my post got quite a bit of attention which got me thinking about the many misconceptions of Art Therapy that exist and today I'm sharing 3 statements we hear or read frequently that make our heads spin a little bit! 


"I'm not artistically inclined so Art Therapy isn't for me."

Art therapy is not about the product. This is so important because in art therapy there is almost always some sort of product. Whether it is a drawing or a clay model or a collage, there is a physical and tangible product as a result of participation in an art therapy session. However, art therapy is not just about the product! It's about what happens in the process of creating the product that IS important and also what sets art therapy apart from art education or art instruction. It does not matter if you are the world's next Picasso or if you can't draw a stick figure. What does matter is that you are interested and open to the process of creating, and that you are seeking an additional, non-verbal way to express and explore your feelings, fears, and experiences in a safe and confidential environment. 

"I do Art Therapy in my [insert talk therapist, doctor, other type of professional service setting here]'s office all the time"

There are many creative professionals out there, and Art Therapists, by no means, OWN art or the process of art making. However, just because someone is using art in a therapeutic way does not constitute it as "Art Therapy." Art therapists are educated, trained and then board certified to provide the service "Art Therapy," and you should be wary of individuals who say they provide art therapy but they do not hold the ATR-BC credential. In the same way, that an individual can not claim they are a "Licensed Mental Health Counselor" without the LMHC credential, or an "Occupational Therapist," without the OTR credential, individuals should not be claiming they are an art therapist, or that they provide art therapy services unless they have the ART-BC credential. We have credentials to protect you the public, from harm and all individuals should be using their credentials correctly. If you'd like more information on the education and training of an art therapist, check out Serena's post on that here. The American Art Therapy Association also has some great guidelines to help clarify the use of "Art Therapy" which you can find here. The bottom line is, know what credentials the professional you are seeing should have and what they actually have, and if you come across someone practicing a profession (any profession!) without the correct credentials...speak up! 

"I just bought a bunch of Adult coloring books so I can do Art Therapy at home"

YES... sort of... but mostly NO!! Art and the process of creating can be incredibly therapeutic and you can do many therapeutic things at home and... if you see a board certified art therapist, they will most likely even load up your therapeutic art making tool box with art techniques for coping with issues like anxiety, depression, anger, isolation, and fear. BUT - actual "Art Therapy" involves a credentialed Art Therapist who is trained to use the art mediums, but who is also trained and prepared help their client navigate the range of emotions and issues that can surface in the process. 

There's probably a lot more I could say on this topic, and I think very soon, I will write about the difference between an Expressive Arts Therapist and a Board Certified Art Therapist. I also owe you a post on the differences between a Certified Therapeutic Musician and a Board Certified Music Therapist. The important take away from all of this is that professionals go to great lengths in their education to train, qualify, gain experience and become credentialed in their specific professional field and we can all do our part by recognizing each profession and protecting the public by only providing services for which we are actually qualified, certified, licensed, and trained to provide.