Art therapy is a human care service which expands the psychotherapeutic process to encompass the client’s visual, as well as verbal, expressions and reflections.
Art therapy is a human care service which expands the psychotherapeutic process to encompass the client’s visual, as well as verbal, expressions and reflections. Art therapy clients are able to deal with the same kinds of issues they would deal with in conventional talk therapies, however, they engage in the therapy by creating with art materials as well as talking with the art therapist. The proportion of art making to talking, and the precise way in which the two forms of communication are blended together for therapeutic effect, will vary according to the needs of the client and the situation. In all instances, though, the making of art is central to art therapy.
Clients do not require any special art skills or abilities in order to benefit fully from art therapy. The creative process and artwork are considered in terms of their therapeutic significance rather than their artistic merit per se. Working in a collaborative manner, the art therapist serves as a witness, guide and facilitator helping the artist-client to express their unique creativity and then "translate" their creative language into meaningful avenues of exploration and personal insight.
While best recognized for its contributions in clinical environments such as mental health facilities and hospitals, the practice of art therapy extends well beyond the boundaries of health services to include work in corporate, educational, social, cross-cultural and community settings.
One of the best-known advantages of art therapy is that it permits thoughts and feelings to be expressed in images as well as words. In this sense, it is a more accessible form of communication for those individuals who have language difficulties such as small children or stroke patients. Likewise, it can facilitate communication in cross-cultural situations when the therapist and client are not fluent in a common language. It is also very useful in balancing overly rational communication as well as in times when a client is ‘stuck’ in verbal therapy. However, art therapy is not simply an alternative to be sought only when conventional “talk therapies” fail to meet a person’s needs. Indeed, art therapy is a valuable psychotherapeutic approach in its own right.
Some of the more important benefits offered by art therapy are:
Art therapy offers effective therapeutic support to people of all ages and backgrounds. Populations facing a diverse array of physical, emotional, spiritual and intellectual problems will find art therapy of great service.
Art therapists work with individuals, couples, families, groups and organisations. They may be the primary therapist to their client(s) or they may provide therapy in conjunction with other care professionals such as medical doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists, nurses, teachers, social workers and ministers.
Artistic abilities and skills are not required for participating in art therapy. The technical quality and appeal of the creations clients produce do not effect the therapeutic value of art therapy. The process inherent in creativity, along with the meaningful stories told about both product and process, are central to the therapeutic experience.
Finally, it is worth noting that art therapy not only addresses clinical issues but also provides tremendous benefits to those individuals who are interested in exploring and strengthening their creativity and self-expression.
Art therapists work in various private and public agencies which include (but are not limited to):
As well, many art therapists are involved in research, teaching and private practice. The AATQ maintains a list of accredited professional members and a directory of accredited members who are art therapists in private practice. This directory of members in private practice also provides information about each art therapist’s particular area of expertise and interest.
Psychologists, occupational therapists and art educators may, at times, have interests and employ methods which overlap with those of art therapists. However, in comparison to art therapists, these other professions typically apply a combination of art and psychology in a more circumscribed way.
Psychologists have long made use of art objects and art tasks for the particular purpose of assessing and evaluating their clients. Sometimes they may even borrow art therapy assessment tools. When working with younger clients, art (and play) are givens. Still, psychologists make use of only a few of art’s therapeutic benefits. Occupational therapists tend to use art as an activity for some prescribed goal such as recreation or physical rehabilitation. Art educators use art to promote the student’s personal expression and growth. Their main focus is on teaching the use of artistic techniques and tools in order for students to master the artistic language; the aesthetic dimension is often valued and emphasized.
Art therapists have been specifically trained to combine the principles and practices of both the visual arts and psychology into a single, coherent, interdisciplinary approach. With their skilled knowledge of art materials, creative process, psychological theories and psychotherapeutic techniques, art therapists encourage creative expression, reflexive contemplation and the working through of personal challenges and problems. In comparison to other professionals, art therapists have a much deeper and broader understanding of the rich interplay between art and psychotherapy. They are experienced in simultaneously addressing both the psychological and artistic needs presented by various situations and populations making for a unique professional expertise.
Art therapy training is offered at the postgraduate level, following an undergraduate degree in fields such as visual arts, psychology, sociology, psychiatry, nursing, social work, occupational therapy or education. The specific prerequisites for each art therapy program vary from one institution to another but candidates are generally expected to have an academic and work history that demonstrates interests and abilities in both visual arts and human care services.
All programs are approximately two years in length. Some schools offer diplomas in art therapy while others award a master’s degree. At the moment, three universities in Canada offer a master’s degree program in art therapy, Concordia University offers a Master of Arts, Art Therapy Option and the Vancouver Art Therapy Institute offers a Masters in Counselling: Art Therapy Specialization, in conjunction with the University of Alberta.
The Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue offers a Master's degree in art therapy.
There are other private educational institutions which offer art therapy programs in Canada.
The AATQ’s basic requirement for professional membership is a master’s degree in art therapy. Consult the AATQ training standards guidelines for more detailed information.
Note: Prospective students from other provinces are advised to ascertain the requirements of professional membership in their provincial art therapy association and to ask whether or not their intended program of study will meet these requirements.
The AATQ guides the practice of its professional members with a code of ethics and standards of practice. The AATQ’s Code of Ethics for Art Therapists was established with the intention of maintaining the highest standards of practice while protecting clients and professional art therapists alike.
Please note the following:
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.
There are a number of ways to learn more about art therapy.
We have included a selection of references to books and professional art therapy journals that provide basic information about art therapy. You may also want to consult our listing of media coverage by Canadian newspapers.
There are many websites that offer information on art therapy. For your convenience, we have included a list of weblinks to some of the more established art therapy associations and training programs.
Art therapy organizations and individual art therapists frequently offer introductory lectures and workshops as part of their effort to educate the public. Please refer to our upcoming Events & Activities section for more information.
911 rue Jean-Talon Est, Bureau 307B Montreal, QC H2R 1V5 514 990-5415