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Art Supply

What are Creative Therapies SERIES



Aiko Leung 

What does the word ‘creative’ lead you into thinking of? Paintings? Colors? Dance? Sound? Movement? Stories? Indeed, creative therapies do resemble these elements and are widely accepted as a group term for ‘art therapy’, ‘music therapy’, ‘dance therapy’, and ‘drama therapy’. In this article, we will explore each therapy briefly.


According to the British Association of Art Therapists (BAAT), art therapy is defined as

‘A form of psychotherapy that uses art media as its primary mode of expression and communication.

Within this context, art is not used as diagnostic tool but as a medium to address emotional issues which

may be confusing and distressing.’


Another prominent organisation, the American Art Therapy Association define art therapy as


‘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.’



In summary, both definitions conclude that art therapy uses art as a medium to allow clients to express themselves under the guidance of a professional therapist in obtaining better mental and psychological wellbeing.


According to the BBAT, a distinct feature of art therapy compared to other psychological therapies is its three-way process. The three-way process is created between the client, the therapist and the artwork, thus allowing room for individuals who struggle in expressing their feelings and thoughts verbally the space to express themselves through art.


In the 1940s, the early stage of art therapy development, huge influencers Hill (1945) and Adamson (1984) suggested that the art-making processing itself is healing, and proposed that the act of creation should not be influenced by the therapist. Although this approach was widely popular in the early days, Naumburg (1953) suggested the psychodynamic approach to art therapy, which gain more prominence.

In 1946, the NHS created the first-ever art therapy job post, marking the beginning of a new profession
in the 1950s. Art therapy was officially recognised as a profession by the Council for Professions Supplementary to Medicine (CPSM) in 1981 and further became state-registered in 1999. (Case & Dalley, 2014). Thus, art therapy is a rather young discipline.


So how long does art therapy usually last? An initial assessment is often conducted to assist the determination of therapy duration and goal setting. The duration of session could range from around 20 sessions to years. (Gilroy et al., 2012; Greenwood, 2011). Clients often take various months to establish trust with the therapist, only then are they willing to share and disclose emotions (Case & Dalley, 2014), thus art therapy should not be seen as an instant cure, but rather as a gradual process.

A wide variety of materials are used in the sessions to create art. Some examples of art material used include paint, crayons, clay, paper... This variety of material allows clients to express different emotions, states and ideas in different creative ways. Clay is considered to be one of the most powerful tools in art therapy since it highly involves physical movements, thus helping clients to release their emotions through releasing their body tension (Case & Dalley, 2014). So, could one suggest that once the releasing of emotions is done, the artwork can be thrown away and is of no significance? No, in fact, the artworks provide an important symbolic representation of the client’s inner world, feelings and thoughts,
mediating between the unconscious and conscious, thus the artwork will be kept as of its intrinsic values. These artworks combined together illustrate a story of the therapeutic journey, the client’s changes of emotions, feelings and experiences (Case & Dalley, 2014).



Adamson, E. (1984). Art as Healing. Conventure.

American Art Therapy Association. (2017). About art therapy.

British Association of Art Therapists. (n.d.). What is art therapy?

Case, C. & Dalley, T. (2014). The Handbook of Art Therapy: Third Edition, 11237, 1–316.

Gilroy A, Brown, C. & Tipple, R. (2012). Assessment in Art Therapy. Routledge.

Greenwood, H. (2011). Long-term individual art psychotherapy. Art for art’s sake: The effect of early relational trauma. Inscape.

Hill, A. (1945). Art versus illness: A story of art therapy. Allen and Unwin.

Naumburg, M. (1953). Psychoneurotic art: Its function in psychotherapy. Grune & Stratton.

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