December 11, 2020

What is Art Therapy?

Art Therapy is a form of expressive therapy that employs techniques and tools that can enhance mental or physical wellbeing and assist in the process of healing. Art therapy typically incorporates painting, finger painting, drawing, sculpting or carving.

Art therapy acts an escape from everyday burdens that arise for someone who is suffering from any number of challenges. Most commonly, art therapy has been used to promote healing in overcoming trauma, stress and anxiety. This expression of art serves as an escape from everyday pressures through allowing others to express themselves in ways that can be challenging to do through verbal communication, often uncovering emotions that don’t present on the surface. Many individuals who present severe symptoms of mental illness struggle to verbally articulate their emotions—art therapy provides a medium in which they can discover and explore the root causes of their emotions.

Art therapy originated in the United States during the early-to-mid twentieth century, led primarily by influential educators Margaret Naumberg and Edith Kramer. Naumberg believed in the relationship between unconscious thought expression and art. Kramer laid much of the groundwork associated with educational art therapy. Ultimately, The American Art Therapy Association was founded in 1969 and continues to advocate for the healing and therapeutic qualities of art.

Art therapy has been an effective modality for individuals struggling with

•      Stress

•      Depression

•      Anxiety

•      Post-traumatic Stress  

•      Suicidal Ideation

•      Substance Use Disorders

•      Fatigue

•      Eating Disorders

•      Cognitive Impairments

•      Family or Relationship Issues

Art therapy can be beneficial for anyone—children, teens and adults. In young children, who have not yet developed the ability to verbally express their emotions, art therapy allows them to explore their emotions in a creative way. Similarly, for teens, art therapy can allow a safe environment for expressing difficult emotions, particularly if they are hesitant or unwilling to verbally communicate these emotions. The same is true for adults—regardless of age, art allows for a safe and comfortable medium to uncover new thoughts and emotions.  

Benefits of Art Therapy

•      Help to decrease symptoms of mental or physical illness and improve quality of life

•      Enhance ability to recognize and cope with a variety of symptoms

•      Stimulate cognitive function

•      Improve communication skills and ability to express oneself

•      Provide an escape from negative thoughts or cravings caused by addiction

•      Adjustment of unhealthy behavioral tendencies

•      Address past traumas and in a safe and low-stakes environment

Art therapist use various techniques depending on the individual circumstance of their client. Sometimes art can take a more abstract form, and other times the art can be more a literal interpretation of emotions. Art therapist will employ the technique that is most appropriate for the individual and maximizes the healing experience.

Contact Us

Art therapy is one the many modalities that Charlie Health employs throughout Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOPs) for teens and young adults, led by master’s level professionals. IOPs explore multiple different modalities to ensure Charlie Health’s clients are able to heal and recover. Charlie Health provides virtual, personalized mental health treatment programs. To learn more about art therapy and other techniques, call Charlie Health today.


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Claire Ellison, LCSW

Laura Sebulsky, MBSR

Director of Admissions and
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