We all need a creative outlet, something to lose ourselves to and at the same time channel our inner beings through. For some that’s music: the strumming of guitar strings, the haunting harmonies, the soft melodies. For others it’s writing: simply leading the tip of a pen to meet paper and letting it dance across the page. And still, others find refuge in color, in picking up a paintbrush, in molding clay with their hands, in scribbling a masterpiece into existence—they find refuge in art.
Art can be so healing, in fact, that it is has been turned into a clinical therapy: art therapy. According to American Art Therapy Association (AATA) art therapy “enriches the lives of individuals, families, and communities through active art-making, creative process, applied psychological theory, and human experience within a psychotherapeutic relationship”. It can be used to advance cognitive and sensorimotor functions, boost self esteem, confront one’s emotions, improve social skills, and reduce stress.
The Guys with the Degrees
Because art therapy is a less conventional therapy, some people look at it as a joke. I mean do they just teach you how to splatter paint on some paper? Actually, not at all. Art therapists are real clinicians with a real education and real training. They help people who are challenged with different medical and mental health problems as well as individuals simply seeking emotional, spiritual, or creative growth. These therapists work at hospitals, community clinics, schools, senior living communities, and also have their own private practices. They may work with individuals one-on-one, or treat couples and families together.
Let’s Get the Facts Straight
The recognition of art’s ability to heal an individual is what sparked the creation of art therapy. However, art therapy is not simply drawing a picture or experimenting with color on a canvas— is an actual profession. So let’s straighten out the facts and separate them from some false beliefs.
True or false?
- Art therapy can be practiced by doctors in different fields.
- A certificate you receive after completing an art workshop permits you to practice art therapy.
- Art therapy may include painting, making a collage, or creating a sculpture.
- The newly popular adult coloring books are art therapy.
- Art therapy engages mind, body, and soul in ways that verbal articulation alone cannot.
See how many you guessed right:
- False. Art therapy can only be practiced by an individual who has completed the required training, certification, and state licensure.
- False. Attendees of these workshops and training sessions are often under false impressions. Again, art therapy can only be practiced by a trained, certified, and licensed individual.
- True. Art therapy involves a wide range of different artistic techniques and practices.
- False. AATA does not discourage people from using these coloring books, but they are not an art therapy service provided by a credentialed art therapist.
- True. Sensory, perceptual, and symbolic opportunities influence alternative modes of receptive and expressive communication, which can surpass the confines of language.
Jim Carrey: Comedian, Actor, and… Present-Day Picasso?
Jim Carrey is a beloved comedian and actor, known for the range of diverse roles he’s able to tackle, such as the Grinch in How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Count Olaf in A Series of Unfortunate Events, and Joel in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. He never fails to go all in, to deliver on screen, and to also hide his true feelings behind those theatrical expressions—they are, after all, just characters. It turns out Carrey, despite his ranking as a top actor with films averaging just under $100 million in sales, has never really had it all. Instead, he’s spent much of his life fighting major depression, a mental illness he never welcomed in.
Carrey discussed this struggle with mental health in 2009 and is still revealing more details about it with time. Just recently, he produced and posted a 6-minute documentary on Vimeo, called “I Needed Color”, about the sanctuary he found in art. It gives us a deeper look into his coping methods and allows us to explore the little nooks of his brain at the same time. “You can tell what I love by the color of the paintings. You can tell my inner life by the darkness in some of them. And you can tell what I want from the brightness in some of them,” says Carrey, as his paintings flash across the screen. The camera then follows him as he molds clay objects, smears paint across larger-than-life canvases, mixes colors, and tells his story.
“I don’t know what painting teaches me. I know that it just frees me—free from the future, free from the past, free from regret, free from worry.” Carrey travels to a different world, art his form of transportation. When he creates, he feels his problems become absolved. He utilizes art in much the same way that art therapists do, to confront challenges and remedy their effects.