Why Art Therapy is Not Just Art
Parents often ask about the effectiveness of play therapy as a form of treatment and say, “But it’s just play!” Art therapy often attracts the same question and a similar response – “But it’s just arts and crafts!”
Like play therapy is not just “play,” art therapy is not just “arts and crafts” or even its first cousin, the ubiquitous colouring book and also like play, art created within the context of a therapeutic relationship is intended to help young children not only to engage in self-exploration, it also involves purposeful meaning-making through specific art making.
Art therapy provides an opportunity to express metaphor through art expression. In fact, one of the strengths of both approaches is their ability to encourage and enhance storytelling and narratives. Storytelling about a drawing, painting, collage or construction does not have to be literal to be therapeutic. In fact, a child who has experienced traumatic events or is challenged by an emotional disorder may only find it possible to generate imaginative stories. With the support and guidance of the therapist, these narratives serve as a way to slowly and safely release disturbing or terrorizing experiences.
Dr Cathy Malchiodi is the world authority on art therapy. Her work is so distinctive because it helps break the silence for those who can’t find the words, moving people forward in areas of therapy that are inhibited and blocked.
“One of the most prevalent misconceptions about art therapy is that drawings can help… diagnose problems or disorders,” Malchiodi explains. “While each person may represent what is emotionally, socially, or physically challenging for them in their artistic expressions, it is not really possible to diagnose illnesses or disorders through a particular artwork.”
Instead, art therapy gives each individual the opportunity to express a unique experience, life history, and cultural narrative. “In this way”, said Malchiodi, “art therapy can act as an integrative mental health approach, addressing the body as a whole.”
The simplicity of children’s art expressions as well as imaginative play may seem deceptively simple at first glance. But as the fields of art therapy and play therapy continue to expand knowledge about their effectiveness, the more we extend the possibilities for best practices with all children in need of help and healing. And while there is still a lot we do not know about exactly “how it works” when it comes to art therapy, we do know that drawing, playing and pretending are all a natural part of the “work” of children.
Original source: Cathy Malchiodi, PhD – Psychology Today Blog
Cathy Malchiodi in Australia, November 2016
Byron Clinic is proud to announce that international art therapy expert Dr Cathy Malchiodi is presenting a series of workshops in Sydney (2nd & 3rd November), Melbourne (10th & 11th November) and Brisbane (15th & 16th). To purchase tickets online click here.
“Super Saver” registration rates are available for a limited time. This workshop is proving very popular and because of the nature of this experiential workshop, positions are limited. Book early to avoid disappointment.
Art therapy gives each individual the opportunity to express a unique experience, life history, and cultural narrative. In this way, art therapy can act as an integrative mental health approach, addressing the body as a whole. [We] are not just addressing mental health issues, but the whole interconnected system that makes up a human being.