Creating art can be a spontaneous event that can lead to free association and engage the observing mind with the thinking mind. Therefore, it can be beneficial as an exercise for the more rigid thinkers and people with anxiety or depression. It can also provide a forum for a client to make abstract links to thoughts and feelings and, therefore, serve as a supplement to cognitive behavioral therapy. Edith Kramer is considered one of the pioneers of art therapy, and believed that art activity itself offers healing properties. She found that through the processes of creating art and forming a therapeutic relationship with the clinician, a patient is able to gain control of their feelings and actions, and thus make a change in their behavioral patterns (Kramer, 1958, 1971).
Waller (2006) outlined five fundamental principles of art therapy:
- Visual image making is an important aspect of the human learning process.
- Art made in the presence of a therapist may enable a child to access feelings that cannot be easily expressed in words.
- Art can serve as a “container” for intense or strong emotions a child might not know how to express or feel overwhelmed by.
- It may serve as a means of communication between the child and the clinician, especially for younger children whose vocabularies may be more limited.
- It can serve to illuminate transference (unconsciously projecting your feelings toward another person).
Additionally, art therapy can be useful in working with people with Autism Spectrum Disorders or Asperger’s who demonstrate compromised communication abilities, in that art provides an alternative pathway to access the psychotherapeutic process. Art therapy has been found to be particularly useful in group settings, in that it can allow individuals to explore boundaries and openness in a nonverbal format, and provides an avenue for sharing and discussing feelings in a new way that is not predicated by preconceived notions of psychotherapy. D.W. Winnicott has written about how art therapy can be used to develop secure attachments, learn new patterns of relating to the world, and help build confidence and a sense of having agency in the world.
Furthermore, for over 30 years, art therapy has been documented as an important method of addressing emotional pain. It is being used increasingly in treating trauma disorders and abuse victims, especially in children who may resist or distrust a verbal approach to therapy. The activity gives the child something to do besides talking, and may serve as a better mode of communication in younger children who do not have the language skills to explain what happened or how they feel.
We are excited to introduce an art-based social group beginning in January 2013. The group, called “Artistic Spectrum for Creative Minds,” will be geared towards children and teenagers ranging from ages 8-13. Stay connected for more information: Southeast Psych Facebook | @SoutheastPsych