About Arts Therapy

What is Art Therapy and Arts Therapies?

  • The arts therapies are a form of psychotherapy utilising creative modalities, including visual art-making, drama, and dance/movement, within a therapeutic relationship to improve and inform physical, mental and emotional well-being. 
  • Art therapists have been trained to work therapeutically using the visual arts, including drawing, painting, and sculpture. 
  • Arts therapists using creative modalities other than, or as well as visual art, work therapeutically with a variety of creative modalities such as with dance/movement or drama and may use titles such as dance/movement therapist, or dramatherapist. 
  • Art therapy has been recognised and regulated around the world by organisations such as the British Association of Art Therapists, the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) and the American Art Therapy Association. 
  • Arts therapists in other parts of the world who work in other modalities are usually recognised and regulated by separate professional bodies, such as the Association for Dance Movement Psychotherapy, or the British Association of Dramatherapy.
  • Increasingly other countries are recognising the value of regulating the various creative arts therapies within one professional overseeing body such as ANZATA.
  • Arts therapies are traditionally based on psychoanalytic or psychodynamic principles, and most art and arts therapists utilise varied practice-based and evidence-based theoretical frameworks in their work. These traditions include depth analytic, humanistic, behavioural, systemic, and integrative approaches.
  • Arts therapies can be practiced with individuals as well as groups. 
  • Arts therapies differ from traditional art-making or performance in that the emphasis is on the process of creating and meaning-making, rather than on the end product. 
  • The therapist and client/s develop an interpersonal relationship through the arts process, with clear boundaries and shared intentions.

Advantages of the Arts Therapies

The arts therapies can help people to resolve conflicts, develop interpersonal skills, manage behaviour, reduce stress, increase self-esteem and achieve insight. Art and arts therapy can encourage clients to:

  • express feelings that may be difficult to verbalise
  • explore their imagination and creativity
  • develop healthy coping skills and focus
  • improve self-esteem and confidence
  • identify and clarify issues and concerns
  • increase communication skills
  • share in a safe nurturing environment
  • improve motor skills and physical co-ordination
  • identify blocks to emotional expression and personal growth.

Common Misconceptions about Arts Therapies

Myth 1 – Artistic types are best suited to arts therapies

Arts therapies do not rely on artistic knowledge or ability. They work by accessing imagination and creativity, qualities which all human beings possess, in order to generate new models of living and contribute to the development of a more integrated sense of self. 

Myth 2 – Arts therapies are without a scientific basis

Evidence-based and practice-based research is well-established in all the arts therapies including visual art therapy, dance and movement therapy, dramatherapy and music therapy. See our Publications and Research section.

Myth 3 – The therapist interprets the work in an art or arts therapy session 

Asking people to reflect on their own creative work is an important part of an art or arts therapy process because it is understood that each individual brings his/her own cultural influences and personal experiences to their creative process. Client and therapist work in a collaborative manner aimed at empowering the person to discover their own meaning-making and to reach his/her fullest potential.

How to Find an Arts Therapist 

If you would like to locate professionally qualified arts therapists in your region for yourself or for someone else, you will find an arts therapist directory listing therapists by region, state and country, by speciality, by reasons for therapy, and by approaches, on this website. Please go to our ‘Find a Therapist’ Directory.