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New Zealand Society of Art Therapists - article continued

How does art therapy help?

... Ability to express feelings difficult to discuss

... Stimulates imagination and creativity

... Develops healthy coping skills and focus

... Increases self esteem and confidence

... Clarifies issues and concerns

... Increases communication skills

... Ability to share a safe nurturing environment

... Assists with development of motor skills and physical co-ordination

... Ability to identify feelings and blocks to emotional expression and personal growth

How art therapy works

The practice of art therapy works across health and medical fields and may incorporate clients' use of various visual art forms such as drawing, painting, sculpture and collage. Some art therapists also offer phototherapy, play and sandtray work.

Art therapy is a therapeutic and diagnostic tool where therapist and client/s develop a dynamic interpersonal relationship, with clear boundaries and goals. It differs from traditional art in that the emphasis is on the process of creating rather than on the end product.

Art therapy is a creative process, suitable for all ages, and particularly for those who may be experiencing life changes, trauma, illness or disabilities causing distress for the individual and for their family.

Art therapy works by contributing to changes in the client's inner world, and towards the development of a client's more integrated sense of self, with increased self awareness and acceptance.

The advantages

The advantage of art therapy is that even though children and adults are not always able to verbalise what is happening for them or how they feel, interaction in art therapy may be totally non-verbal until there is confidence to communicate verbally. The art helps hold that quiet space. Alternatively there are those who may over-verbalise, blocking feelings and thoughts which need expression; here interaction may be totally verbal until there is courage to mark a blank piece of paper, work with clay make a mask, or create an art work. In other words, art contributes to a fine balance within the therapeutic relationship attending to more aspects of a personality than would otherwise be accessible.

The artwork

The artwork (or absence of) in each session is a confidential record showing patterns of feelings, thoughts and behaviours. While the therapist and client work together to understand the product of each session, this product must be seen as a reflection of the meaning for that person, through their own discovery.

The art therapist provides a safe, non-threatening space and invites the individual (or group) to explore their issues by using whatever variety of media he or she feels is appropriate and comfortable during the session. Art therapists have specialised training that reflects their interdisciplinary practice and prepares them to provide such a space.

Some art therapists have a first degree in fields such as the Visual Arts, Psychology, Psychiatry, Nursing, Social Work, Occupational Therapy or Education. Many have more specialised Certificates or Diplomas in such areas as Mental Health, Drug and Alcohol, Counselling, Gerontology, Family Therapy, and Child Psychotherapy, for example. Most will have a Masters Degree in Art Therapy from a course in Australia or an overseas Masters or Postgraduate Diploma. Some other tertiary institutions are offering electives in Art Therapy as part of other higher degrees and some private agencies are also offering Art Therapy courses.

The art therapist in the workplace

Art therapists currently work in public and private agencies with other allied health professionals and in multi-disciplinary teams. For example: public and private psychiatric hospitals, prisons, family welfare agencies, nursing homes, rehabilitation centres, drug and alcohol units, women's health centres and community health centres. They also work in private practices.

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