Origins of Art Therapy

While the profession we presently know as "art therapy" emerged in the last century, art has been of central importance to the healing practices of many cultures over much of human history. The beginnings of modern art therapy can be traced to the early 1900’s when psychiatrists first wondered if there was a relationship between the artwork and the illness of a patient. At the same time, art educators began to observe how the free and spontaneous artworks of children were a form of personal storytelling which conveyed emotionally and symbolically meaningful messages.

These two areas of interest eventually resulted in the emergence of the distinct discipline of art therapy in the 1930’s. There were four pioneers whose work was instrumental in establishing art therapy in Canada– Marie Revai of Montreal and Ontario’s Martin Fisher, Irene Dewdney and Selwyn Dewdney.


During the second half of the twentieth century art therapists became increasingly organized, setting up graduate programs, professional associations and journals. The Canadian Art Therapy Association was established in 1977. One year later, Concordia University in Montreal began offering courses in art therapy and introduced a master’s degree program in 1983. The Association des art-thérapeutes du Québec (Quebec Art Therapy Association) was founded in 1981.

To learn more about the history of art therapy please refer to the additional sources listed under References.


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