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What is Art Therapy and What is it Used For?

What is art therapy and what is it used for? Those are the common questions individuals ask when they hear of the concept of art therapy. Art therapy is a form of psychotherapy that was founded in the 1940’s by two pioneers named Margaret Naumburg and Edith Kramer, who used this technique to help individuals express their thoughts and feelings. Sometimes, words aren’t always the easiest way for people to express themselves, therefore therapists resort to art. It is a unique way to foster healing and a positive well-being. Art therapy can be used as a stand-alone technique, or it can be used alongside other modalities such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Clients can use their art to analyze what they have created and how it makes them feel. The American Art Therapy Association describes its main functions as improving cognitive and sensorimotor functions, fostering self-esteem and self-awareness, cultivating emotional resilience, promoting insight, enhancing social skills, reducing and resolving conflicts and distress, and promoting societal and ecological changes.

Art therapy can come in many different forms. Some of the mediums used in art therapy sessions are:

  • Collage

  • Coloring

  • Doodling and scribbling

  • Drawing

  • Finger painting

  • Painting

  • Photography

  • Sculpting

  • Working with clay

The Art Therapy Credentials Board suggests that art therapy can help individuals who:

  • experienced trauma, such as combat or a natural disaster

  • have significant health challenges, including traumatic brain injuries and cancer

  • have certain conditions, such as depression, autism, and dementia

  • live with pain to reduce stress and anxiety

  • have anxiety

  • have eating disorders

  • have substance use disorders

  • cope with stress

The board also states that art therapy can be beneficial for children who have experienced childhood trauma, disabilities, and special educational needs, criminal convictions as a juvenile, chronic asthma, or children who are facing several challenges in their lives.

In her book, The Art Therapy Sourcebook, Cathy Malchiodi, a leading expert in today’s art therapy movement, states that, through art therapy “people may find relief from overwhelming emotions, crises or trauma. They may discover insights about themselves, increase their sense of well-being, enrich their daily lives through creative expression, or experience personal transformation.”

The old saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” reflects the powerful effect that the arts and creative expression have on human understanding and communication. Art therapy works to harness that power for therapeutic means.


Cherry, K. (n.d.). What is art therapy? Verywell Mind. Retrieved November 16, 2022, from

Holly Tiret, M. S. U. E. (2022, January 21). The benefits art therapy can have on mental and Physical Health. MSU Extension. Retrieved November 16, 2022, from

Hu, J., Zhang, J., Hu, L., Yu, H., & Xu, J. (2021). Art therapy: A complementary treatment for mental disorders. Frontiers in Psychology, 12.

MediLexicon International. (n.d.). Art therapy: Definition, uses, and how it works. Medical News Today. Retrieved November 16, 2022, from

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