How Art Teachers Can Enhance Artmaking as a Therapeutic Experience: Art Therapy and Art Education

By Dunn-Snow, Peggy; D'Amelio, Georgette | Art Education, May 2000 | Go to article overview

How Art Teachers Can Enhance Artmaking as a Therapeutic Experience: Art Therapy and Art Education


Dunn-Snow, Peggy, D'Amelio, Georgette, Art Education


The national organization of the American Art Therapy Association in 1994 celebrated 25 years as an organization at its annual conference. Today, training in the field is, in most cases, comparable to other mental health counseling professions such as clinical social work, marriage and family therapy, or mental health counseling. Like other counseling professions, art therapy is a master's level entry profession in which training and national board certification as an art therapist requires supervision both before and after graduation. Similar to other therapists, art therapists are also required to qualify for licensing or certification in some states where they practice.

The mothers of American art therapy, Margaret Naumburg and Edith Kramer, began practicing and calling themselves art therapists in the 1940s and `50s. These original pioneers of art therapy started their respective careers as an art historian and an art teacher. Andrus (1995) writes that art therapists over the years have noted the relationship between art education and art therapy. National publications in art education have dedicated entire journal issues to exploring relationships between the two art fields. The profession of art therapy has strong roots in art education and most art therapists are familiar with the work of Viktor Lowenfeld, an influential art educator in the 1940s and '50s, who advocated a therapeutic approach to art education with children and adolescents (Andrus, 1995, p. 232) . Today, nearly 60 years after Margaret Naumburg and Edith Kramer began practicing art therapy, the field continues to attract art teachers, and for good reason. As art teachers, we realize the power of art to transform our students, yet, in many cases, we are also aware of how little we know of the disabling conditions our students have.

School systems continue to seek expedient and useful methodologies to address the needs of an increasing number of children with behavior disorders, conduct disorders, emotional disturbances, and aggressive behaviors (Anderson,1992, Bryant, 1995) . However, children and youth with behavioral and emotional disorders are very often underserved and inadequately served. Deinstitutionalization, state mental reform movements, healthcare insurance policy modifications, and a variety of other factors have dramatically decreased the availability of restrictive treatment and educational options. As a result, children and youth with severe behavioral and emotional disorders are increasingly living at home and attending public schools, often without support of therapeutic resources and alternatives for themselves or their families (Carter & Simpson,1993) .

Many school personnel do not have the professional training, time, or resources to effect changes within the family/community construct. In areas of almost every community, schools contend with children affected by violence, poverty, unemployment, and drug use. Many of these children became emotionally disabled as a response to their intolerable living conditions (Kramer,1993). School administrators supply special classes to specifically "educate" children with moderate to severe emotional disabilities, mental disabilities, and behavior disorders. Yet, special teachers are trained in behavioral management and crisis interventions, not mental health counseling procedures. Additionally, these classes serve to contain children with the most extreme disabilities.

Not surprisingly, many of the children "fall through the cracks" and are placed in regular classrooms where their behaviors affect other students' learning and test the teacher's capabilities in dealing with atypical behaviors (D'Amelio,1996, p. 6). In special classroom settings or not, children with disabilities are sent to regular art, music, and physical education classes, where those teachers have rarely been trained in special education methods and interventions (Anderson,1994; De Chiara,1990) .

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