Art Therapy PhiladelphiaArt Therapy

Art therapy offers a non-verbal approach for when there are no words to define our experience, or when those experiences have gone unspoken. While the prospect of making art can sometimes elicit anxiety in the maker, with the support of an unbiased presence in a safe, non-judgmental space, art therapy can build an illuminating bridge between one’s lived experience and the words to communicate that experience to others. It can also open a door to one’s inner voice and intuition.

Harriet Wadeson, one of the pioneers of the art therapy profession, identifies six advantages of art therapy, although there are undoubtedly many more.

Imagery

We experience the world through imagery before our brains develop the capacity to use language. We can learn a great deal about our internal lives through the images with which we connect and those which we create, oftentimes more so than through words alone. In attempting to put our internal experience into words, the meaning of that experience can sometimes be “lost in translation.” Art psychotherapy can help acquaint us directly with the source – our conscious and unconscious mind, and our energetic and emotional state – without the limits or misconceptions that can arise with spoken language alone.

Decreased Defenses

Because art-making is a less customary form of communication among humankind in this era, and because spoken word can be more easily manipulated by the speaker (consciously or unconsciously), art therapy offers an additional advantage in that it lowers our psychological defenses. (Psychological defenses are unconscious efforts to protect ourselves against “unacceptable” thoughts or feelings.) When we can lower our defenses enough within a safe space, such as a therapy session and/or through the creation of art, it becomes much easier to connect with our lived truths. In other words, art therapy can allow us to let our guards down enough to be better attuned to our inner voice.

Objectification

By harnessing our energy into the creation of a tangible art object or image (e.g. a drawing, painting, sculpture, collage, etc.), art-making allows us to externalize our internal experiences. This process can then make our internal experiences easier to view, explore, digest and understand from a “safe” distance or with some separation from any overwhelming thoughts or emotions that the image may contain. The art object becomes a “bridge” between our internal world and external reality.

Permanence

Whereas memory and the words we use to describe our experiences are malleable or subject to change or distortion, the images we create are not (or at least not to the same degree). An art object, image or product can serve as a time capsule or a snapshot of a moment in time, as it is a direct reflection of the emotional and energetic state under which it was created.

Spatial Matrix

Artistic expression is not bound by the laws of time, space or language. Multiple realities can be visually depicted at once.

Creative and Physical Energy

There is something inherently energizing and playful about the process of artistic expression. Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, a Hungarian American psychologist, identified and coined the psychological concept of flow: a highly focused, engaged and attentive mental state. Art-making in any form or medium can allow us to access this state of flow, energy and creativity.

Self-Esteem Enhancement

Art-making can provide an opportunity to develop a new side of oneself and to gain a sense of mastery within a given art medium.

Beyond the advantages of art therapy identified by Wadeson, art-making also allows access to the parts of the brain associated with emotion and memory in ways which words alone may not. Art therapy can provide us with an invaluable opportunity to reconnect with our inborn capacity for curiosity, experimentation and play, all of which can lead to useful guidance and insight within the therapeutic process.

In addition to my professional background, I bring experience from a lifelong engagement with the creative arts (long predating my entry into the mental health profession) into my art therapy sessions. Between my personal and professional experience, I incorporate a sense of fluency with visual expression into my clinical work which helps my clients hear and acknowledge the lived truths illuminated through the art-making process.

In addition to individual outpatient art therapy sessions, I also offer adjunctive art therapy assessments for clients already engaged in psychotherapy with a clinician they trust.

For more information about art therapy and how it works, please visit the website of the American Art Therapy Association.