Art Therapist

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Art Therapist


For some people, creative expression is the best way to represent emotion and feelings. From Michelangelo to Monet, all artists are inspired in some form by emotion or feeling when setting the brush to the canvas. Art encompasses all the feelings and states of being that humans experience. Art therapists believe that there is a definite meaning behind all works of art -- whether it be a four-year-old's rendition of his or her family to an abuse victim's abstract painting. They help clients restore health and balance to the mind and body through the structured use of art, such as painting, drawing or modelling.

Art therapy is a type of psychotherapy attempting to reconcile emotional conflict and promote personal growth. Unlike conventional methods of treatment, it emphasizes non-verbal communication utilizing simple art materials. The therapist allows the individual to choose from a variety of art media, such as a pencil, paint or clay, to give expression to repressed thoughts and feelings related to conflicts, traumatic experiences, fantasies, dreams, self-image and patterns of relationships with others. The therapist uses therapeutic practices such as reconciling emotional conflicts, fostering self-awareness and self-esteem, developing social skills and reducing anxiety.

The point of art therapy has nothing to do with artistic talent, therefore having a previous background in drawing and painting is not essential in this process. Instead, the therapy is designed to facilitate a line of communication between the patient and the therapist and enhance verbal therapy. Through a creative process, the art therapist seeks to help a troubled soul deal with a physical, emotional or psychological problem.

Art therapy provides a means of expression for uncommunicative people or those with serious psychological disorders, such as schizophrenia. It is also widely used with children with autism or brain damage who cannot properly communicate in a clinical setting. Since autism, for instance, is not fully understood by psychiatrists and therapists, art is good a form of communication to help such children express themselves in any way possible.

Art therapy is also very effective for people with AIDS, cancer or other chronic illnesses along with sufferers of emotional or physical trauma, abuse or addiction. Clients with life threatening diseases or emotional disorders are encouraged to explore the anguish they are feeling through art. Since some situations are too difficult for people to express verbally, art therapy methods increase clients' confidence, and help people come to terms with their problems to move forward.
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  Interests and Skills  
Art therapists must be enthusiastic, creative and always work with a non-judgmental attitude. Since their work is quite experimental in comparison to more conventional types of therapy, they must help their patients believe that using a creative side of their personality will help them heal. Art therapists need strong communication and interpersonal skills, and flexibility and a tolerance for ambiguity. Finally, they enjoy working with people, and designing and implementing innovative therapy programs that use the principles of artistic therapy techniques.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Assess a client's needs and strengths
  • Identify specific treatment goals and objectives
  • Choose an appropriate approach and develop a treatment program
  • Examine, question and observe clients to help them work out their problems or concerns
  • Use painting, drawing, modelling or other artistic media to improve client's well being
  • Evaluate the program's effectiveness on an ongoing basis
  • Adjust programs as needed based on individual need
  • May conduct assessments and write reports on clients
  • Work with individuals, groups and families
  • Consult with other therapists to develop treatment approaches
  • Art therapists generally work standard office hours in traditional placement settings but may work in private practices that allow them a more flexible working schedule. However, those in private practices may work some evenings and weekends to accommodate clients' schedules. All therapies require a specific, safe environment, especially so that patients feel comfortable.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Art therapists work in rehabilitation facilities, hospitals, schools, prisons and other correctional facilities, private practices, community mental health facilities, senior's centers and homes, daycare centers and counseling centers and clinics.

  Long Term Career Potential  
What does the future hold for art therapists? They can move into related health fields, such as counseling, daycare and other mental health professions such as psychology. They may also work at group homes or at camps for people with special needs. Those with further education can also teach art therapy at the college and university level.

  Educational Paths  
Although there is no required educational path one must take to become an art therapist, most have a bachelor's degree or equivalent training and experience, coupled with a background in art. For example, art therapists are artists themselves in some medium, such as painting or sculpture and may have a background teaching art or in counseling or psychology.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition,
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002,

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