Art Therapy: Why Getting Creative Can Help Improve Our Mental State

The Sydney Anxiety Clinic is pleased to welcome Anna Kellerman. Anna has a Bachelor of Art Education and Masters of Art Therapy. She has been working with children and art for over 20 years. Anna is a registered art therapist and has worked with children from a range of backgrounds including domestic violence, trauma, parental separation, and who all present with various forms of anxiety. Anna is also the founder of Mama Creatives. This blog is part one in a series about Art Therapy. Here Anna explains what Art Therapy is and its benefits.

We are all born to draw

If you have been around toddlers and young kids for any length of time, (or even remember yourself as a youngster), you may recall a natural inclination for drawing and painting on paper or other surfaces such as walls and books. Like all childhood milestones such as rolling, sitting up, crawling, eating, standing up, walking and talking, we are also born with an innate ability to make marks, scribble and draw.

What is Art Therapy?

Despite our natural inclination to express ourselves visually, art therapy is a relatively new field, in comparison to medicine and other health professions. Simply put, it can be described as a hybrid discipline based on the fields of both art and psychology. It was more formally defined as a profession in the 1940s in America and then in the UK not long afterwards.

There are various art therapy approaches but central to all orientations is the commitment to the art process. It is the presence of the art form that distinguishes art therapy. The emphasis is on the inherent healing qualities of the art process rather than purely on the finished art product. Art making can provide individuals with the opportunity to express themselves in creative and non-linear ways, which can deepen the experience of the self.

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

Who is art therapy for?

Art therapy is suitable for all ages and people who may be experiencing life changes, trauma, illness or disabilities causing distress for the individual and for their family. No art experience is necessary.

What are the benefits of art therapy?

Some of the main benefits of this approach include:

  • Emotional Safety - it can offer people a safe way to share their feelings in a non-confrontational manner.

  • Art Space - the actual space can offer a place to explore, experiment, test boundaries, make a mess, let go, process unconscious and conscious material and reflect it back in an acceptable manner.

  • Metaphor - the use of art materials also lends itself to metaphor and symbolic language, and can be a very powerful way to externally express their internal feelings and sensations.

  • Tangible Reference - Creating something tangible within the sessions allows the experience to be retained and referred to later in the therapeutic process if necessary.  

How is art therapy different to other therapy?

As with any other mental health professional, the main objective is for the therapist and client to develop a dynamic interpersonal relationship, with clear boundaries and goals. What differs, however, is the inclusion of the art materials and art making process. This can be described as a triangular relationship involving the therapist, the client and the artwork produced in the sessions.

Therapy is the primary goal of the art making process, so in order to offer both art and therapy the art therapist must be trained as a clinician and be skilled at managing the client’s comfort with the unfamiliar art making processes.

Knowledge of art materials is critical since the experience can greatly impact the client’s sense of safety. For example, whilst clay and paint are both expressive in quality and can have a powerful therapeutic effect for someone suffering from anxiety, the lack of boundaries could potentially overwhelm a client suffering from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) who dislikes mess and chaos. So if these materials are used too soon within the treatment it can be detrimental to the entire therapeutic relationship.

Art therapists also have the ability to refer to allied health professionals should the client require further treatment. In Australia, the only recognised art therapists are those who are professionally registered with the governing association, ANZATA (Australia & New Zealand Art Therapy Association).    

Why is art therapy important to the Sydney Anxiety Clinic?

Founder and Principal Clinical Psychologist, Dr Jodie Lowinger says “We are delighted to have Anna join our team of therapists at the Sydney Anxiety Clinic. We pride ourselves on providing holistic treatment and it’s wonderful that such a skilled and dedicated art therapist is now in the clinic to provide this option for our clients.”

If you’d like to find out more about Art Therapy or make an appointment to see Anna, please contact the Sydney Anxiety Clinic on 02 9389 7778.