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The Healing Power of Art Therapy

By Victoria Van Zandt

Victoira Van Zandt, MA Registered Marriage & Family Therapist in Los Angeles, California. She works with children, teens, adults and families.

Art therapy is a form of psychotherapy where the individual engages in creative self-expression to decrease pain, gain insight, and tap into one’s thoughts, feelings and emotions–it is not concerned with how artistic or how well a person can draw or paint or work with clay. It is about the process of self-expression and not the product. It is about getting feelings out in a creative manner without the filter of words. When working with imagery, the client is accessing the right brain, the part of the brain where emotions reside–not the analytical left brain. Though clients can talk about the meaning the art has for them and any reactions they experience, as an art therapist, I do not assume to know what a client’s art means nor do I interpret their work. I do maintain a sense of curiosity about their art and might ask a question such as, “Tell me about this drawing?”, or “What might this image be feeling?” I leave interpretation up to the client.

Art therapy is used in hospitals, clinics, rehab facilitites, schools, private practice and in senior centers. It is used with children, teens and adults, older adults and with families and couples. It is used to promote and enhance physical, emotional and mental health by using creative expression. Taking part in artmaking helps decrease anxiety, stress, depression and increase self-awareness, self-esteem, relationship difficulties and behavior and developmental delays while providing insight into one’s life. I explain that art therapy is not an art class though the process might inspire a person to pick up pastels and draw on their own. Children gravitate towards the use of art and approach creativity with imagination and freedom and play without judgment or self-criticism. They enjoy experimenting with new art materials and soon discover creative tools to handle difficult emotions such as anger. Art therapy is beneficial in helping children diagnosed with ADHD, autism, learning disabilities, fear, and the challenges of living with a chronic illness. As we age, we begin to seek perfection in ourselves and, through creative expression, clients can learn to silence the voice of the internal critic and become more self-aware of their negative thoughts and irrational beliefs. I invite clients to let the page hold the feeling(s) where we can explore them together. I suggest to clients that, instead of letting the feeling fester inside of them, why not allow the art to be the container.

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