Art Therapy

Art Therapy uses art media as its primary mode of expression and communication

What is Art Therapy

Art Therapy or Art Psychotherapy is a form of psychotherapy that uses art media as its primary mode of expression and communication. Art Therapists, like other therapists and mental health practitioners, are skilled in using the therapeutic relationship, but in addition they use creative processes, to help children and young people (CYP) to find their own creative and psychological resources, which can strengthen or uncover their innate self healing capacity. This potential capacity can be compromised in different ways such as adverse childhood experiences like neglect, abuse, bereavement and trauma or by environmental factors, e.g. significant life changes, dysfunctional families, bullying, exclusion, social or academic demands and others. All of these can cause emotional distress and mental health difficulties, as can toxins, substance misuse or sensory differences and complex genetic factors.

Recognising their pathological presentation Art Therapy is aiming to utilise and strengthen the CYP’s potential. Creative expression directly addresses their capacity to experience themselves as having choices, value and meaning. CYP are invited to freely express themselves in a variety of media and art forms such as drawing, painting, sculpting, pottery, print making, utilising scrap or natural materials, clay or fabric to name a few. CYP can explore, get to know, convey and learn to better understand their emotions, which at times can elicit the origins or causes of difficulties they might experience. Problems are however not always ‘solved’ or even fully understood but some times rather ‘outgrown’ and left behind. 

A referral to Art Therapy might be indicated when

  • A gentle, creative, more playful and child friendly approach is needed.
  • Child/Young person has experienced neglect or abuse, including bullying.
  • Developmental Trauma and/or other Complex Trauma
  • Attachment Difficulties
  • Dyadic work with carer/parents is indicated
  • PTSD
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Bereavement and loss
  • Dysregulation
  • Negative self-image, low self esteem or lack of confidence
  • A non-verbal approach is indicated. This can have many causes, e.g. verbal capacity is not fully developed or compromised, developmental blockage/delay /problems, dissociation and selective mutism.
  • Recovery from illness
  • General or unspecific lack of well being
  • Extended observation/assessment in a more ‘practical’ setting
  • Complex co-morbidities
  • Other interventions have not brought the desired alleviation of symptoms

Colour, shape and texture

The Importance of the Image in Art Therapy

A specific characteristic of Art Therapy is the tangible record of an experience, even when it has passed, shown in the image. This allows the author and the therapist to jointly reflect on what has come into being, both at the time of its creation and later on in the therapy. This intersubjective process might reveal some previously unnoticed or hidden meaning or further a deeper understanding. In a retrospective review it can show how things have moved on or what has remained static.
Images can carry contradictory or ambivalent messages – they can be ‘this’ and ‘that’ rather than ‘this’ or ‘that’; they can convey a joyful side and fear, past and future, light and darkness, sun and rain in the same work. Images, however, should not be seen as having fixed meanings; they can reveal different dimensions than the linear flow of words and therefore they sometimes can describe experiences for which words appear inadequate. They can entail early, perhaps even pre-verbal or dissociated experiences and their meaning or interpretation, as the understanding develops, can change over time. Images and the way they are created can have significance in understanding how the author approaches the world, whether they are being considerate, anxious, and hesitant or bold, perhaps even hastily rushing into things. Has the creative process a natural flow or is the client getting stuck and if so, can they tolerate this, are they accepting, reactive or inventive in finding solutions?


It is of great importance that the therapist is sensitive and observant, aware of their own thoughts and feelings and at the same time aware what is going on for the client. In any case the therapist has to be very cautious about verbalising any concrete interpretations of an image. This could compromise the author’s processes of coming to their own conclusions and understanding and it might rather project the therapist’s feelings or experiences onto the client’s work. At times a more questioning approach might help the client to move on when being trapped or stuck.
It also can be of significance what is happening to the image after it has been created. Whether it will be carefully preserved or disposed of, perhaps even purposefully destroyed in a ‘ritual’ act.

To find out more about Art Therapy please visit:

Thomas Huebner

Contact Thomas Huebner

+44 (0) 123456790