What to Expect in Art Therapy
A common question during a consultation calls is, “What is art therapy like?”
If you’ve been in therapy before, art therapy is much like a “talk therapy” session. Therapy is an opportunity to explore your thoughts and feelings in a space that promotes trust and safety. An essential component in therapy is your relationship with the therapist. If a therapist isn’t a “good fit,” as we often say, then it may be more difficult to feel comfortable in opening up. Therapy requires vulnerability and the trust you develop with your therapist will help you feel safe in session.
You and your therapist will identify patterns, coping strategies and personal strengths that influence your world. By bringing awareness to your past and present experiences, you can begin to explore how to align with your values and promote balance in your life.
So, how is Art Therapy different?
The difference in art therapy is that talking is not required to share your experiences. Making art in session provides an outlet, a reflection of your inner thoughts and feelings, and a tangible representation to notice subtle shifts in your life. Creating a piece of beautiful artwork is not the goal; It’s about the meaning of your imagery and the story you share.
GETTING STARTED AT ALEXANDRIA ART THERAPY, LLC
All prospective clients have the option to schedule a consultation call with me, the Clinical Director. Chatting over the phone about your needs allows me to help you find the best fit at our practice or refer to you a clinician in the community who can better serve your needs. Clinicians at Alexandria Art Therapy specialize in a variety of mental health needs; you can read more about our specializations here.
Next is scheduling an intake session. An intake session is a session in which you and your clinician will discuss your needs and begin building a framework for therapy by exploring family history, past experiences and current life stressors. This is also an opportunity to meet your clinician face to face and get a sense of what it might feel like to work together.
An art therapist may also prompt you to create a series of images for an art therapy assessment. This is another tool that art therapists use to help hone in to your treatment needs. Making art in session is not about creating a piece of beautiful artwork; the process of making imagery (lines, shapes and colors) serves as a reflection of your inner thoughts and feelings. There is no good, bad, right or wrong.
Based on information you shared verbally and nonverbally, your clinician will work with you to come up with an appropriate treatment plan. This means frequency of therapy and goals for your work together. During the first 4-6 weeks, we recommend weekly sessions to get into the flow of therapy and establish a therapeutic relationship.
A FEW ADDITIONAL QUESTIONS
Can you read my inner thoughts by looking at my art?
Nope. We’re not mind readers and don’t make absolute interpretations of your artwork. Art therapists are, however, trained to understand global characteristics (e.g. colors, textures, shapes) in artwork that can point towards specific themes. Your story is essential in understanding your artwork. An art therapist may share curiosities about artwork, feelings evoked from the imagery and symbolism that the imagery is reminiscent of. Art therapy sessions typically provide an opportunity to verbalize meaning in the artwork to connect verbal and nonverbal experiences.
What if I just need to talk in the session?
Then we’ll talk. Working with an art therapist provides the opportunity to use the creative process in session, but it is not essential each time.
Do I need training in art to get something out of art therapy?
Not at all. The aesthetics of your artwork is less important than the meaning. If guidance is needed to best portray your message, an art therapist will show you how to use specific materials and techniques.
A NOTE ON TRAINING
Art Therapists are mental health clinicians who have completed graduate level coursework, internships, and post graduate supervision with specific training in the creative process, psychodiagnostics, and art therapy theory. To read more about training and credentialing, visit arttherapy.org
Adele Stuckey, LPC, ATR-BC is a Board Certified Art Therapist and Licensed Professional Counselor. She is the Founder and Clinical Director of Alexandria Art Therapy. She works with women who feel stuck in life, especially those seeking support during fertility, pregnancy and postpartum experiences.