Academic journal article Delta Kappa Gamma Bulletin

Art Therapy: Definitions and Dimensions

Academic journal article Delta Kappa Gamma Bulletin

Art Therapy: Definitions and Dimensions

Article excerpt


While serving on a DKG international committee with Icelandic member, Egylo Bjornsdottir, I mentioned that I was looking for a place to fulfill my Fulbright Senior Grant. Through the networking benefit of being members of DKG, Egylo put me in contact with her dean at the University of Akureyri, and, in the summer of 2014,1 was invited to Iceland to work as a Fulbright scholar on campus. The university administrators anticipated expansion of the degree offerings at the university, and art therapy was one of the graduate programs they were interested in pursuing. In August 2014, with the administrators in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences and the Continuing Education Department, I developed and advertised in the city news magazine three workshops, open to the public, that covered ways art therapy could be implemented across the life-span. The target audiences for the each of the three workshops included parents and grandparents of preschoolers; private and public school teachers working with elementary, secondary, and university students; and health-care professionals working with the elderly. I also participated in a lecture series on professions for the future for incoming freshmen students and conducted a lecture and workshop for teachers in the city public school system entitled Enhancing Art-Making as a Therapeutic Experience, sponsored by the Professional Development Office on campus.

Like most art therapists, I specialized after graduation and have worked almost exclusively with children. But when asked to define and explain art therapy to university administrators, faculty, students, and interested members of the community-at-large in the city of Akureyri, I had to think about my profession for the last 25 years with a wider brush stroke. I had to dust off some of my textbooks, read current literature in the field, revisit past experiences as an art therapist, and revise art-therapy presentations to benefit a wide variety of workshops attendees. What follows is a summary of what I taught and learned through my workshop sessions.

A Definition and Benefits of Art Therapy

What is art therapy, what does the art therapist contribute to a treatment team, and what would one see if he or she observed an art-therapy session in progress? Art therapy is defined as a mental health profession that requires a master's degree as the entry level degree to practice as an art therapist. It is a separate profession related to other helping professions, including psychology, counseling, social work, nursing, and teaching. In the United States, two early art-therapy pioneers, Edith Kramer (1979, 1992) and Florence Cane (1983), both came from an art-education background.

Today, art therapists work in a variety of settings, including schools, hospitals, residential treatment centers, rehabilitation centers, nursing homes, prisons, shelters, community centers, health and wellness programs, and private practice. Art therapy exists on a continuum between art in therapy and art as therapy. In the former, art is used as a vehicle in psychotherapy; in the latter, making art is therapeutic in and of itself. The definition of art is also inclusive, referring to fine art, applied art, folk art, arts and crafts, Western and Non-Western art, and art from ancient to contemporary times.

The history of art therapy is steeped in psychoanalytical theory, but today art therapists embrace all theories of education, psychology, and counseling. Regardless of the theory an art therapist is following, art therapy takes a client-centered approach (Rogers, C., 1986; Rogers, N., 1993), allowing the clients to define their needs in an atmosphere of support and safety. Because people often come to therapy because choices have been lost, denied to them, or taken away from them in some aspect of their lives, giving clients control of their lives through decisions of what art materials they use and what topics or themes they want to express in their art work is central to working as an art therapist. …

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