Art Therapy – A form of Psychotherapy in Mental Health

October 13, 2019

Written by Veronica Passmore (Art Psychotherapist)

This is a caption

Art as a form of Psychotherapy

My own experience with art informed me that art making can access parts of our lived experience that talking and even thinking cannot do alone. Art therapy can access the essence of our stories using the interaction between the body, the art materials and the therapeutic relationship so that we can depict these stories with more clarity and creative precision.

Art therapy might look like an investigation of hopes, dreams, questions, relationships, traumas, values, behaviours and anxieties, through art modalities such as painting, drawing, storytelling, drama and sand play. It is a direct but gentle process that acknowledges our story so that it can be felt, known and integrated into day to day life, to instigate positive change.

The art making is not only a means to create a finished piece of work but the process itself can be just as rewarding. The process of creating a piece of work can be revealing and comforting as one connects with their story as it comes to life on the paper. In addition, the act of projecting the inner world out, in order for it to be seen can provide a safe distance as it creates a physical distance between oneself and the expression made.

As an art therapist I accept individuals as the experts of their own experience and companion them on their journey to co-create an inquiry of purpose, discovery and understanding. During the process the inquiry will identify significant themes and help us understand how these themes play out in day to day life. Decisions about these ways of being can then be made using the diverse perspectives that the arts offer us. In parallel, the act of creating can be a fun and peaceful experience.

Art therapy is for everyone and no prior experience in art making is necessary to participate.

For children, art therapy is imperative in order to project, express and share the challenges that they might be experiencing, especially when considering their limited language facilities. It has been found that play and art is a valuable resource for children that are struggling as it expands a child’s capacity to express, and in turn builds self-knowledge, actualisation and efficacy, and is therefore central to development (Stein, 2015).

For teenagers and young adults, this period can be a turbulent time that is fraught with the challenges of change and independence and has been found to leave individuals vulnerable to psychological distress such as depression and anxiety (Bessaha, 2017). Art therapy offers a fundamental avenue in which to explore these hurdles such as identity, significant life transitions and relationships in a safe and non-judgemental environment.

For adults, the arts can be a refreshing and energetic way to acknowledge and address concerns, questions, traumas and significant life changes, including grief, loss, health, identity and migration. For example, Dieterich-Hartwell and Koch (2017) found that the arts serve as a primary tool for migrants to acknowledge homesickness, fear, adversity, strengthen the process of transition and connect with their new environments and communities.

Our own experiencing is our primary source for understanding our ways of being.

Bessaha, M. L. (2017). Factor structure of the Kessler Psychological Distress Scale (K9)

among emerging adults. Research on Social Work Practice, 27(5), 616-624.

Dieterich-Hartwell, R., & Koch, S. C. (2017). Creative arts therapies as temporary home for

refugees: Insights from literature and practice. Behavioural Sciences, 7(4), 1-11.

Stein, D. L. (2015). Play therapy: A healing modality. Counselling Australia, 15(1), 10-13.


Sign up to our newsletter for quarterly updates and resources.