What is Art Therapy?

The American Art Therapy Association’s definition

“Art Therapy is an integrative mental health and human services profession that enriches the lives of individuals, families, and communities through active art-making, creative process, applied psychological theory, and human experience within a psychotherapeutic relationship.

Art Therapy, facilitated by a professional art therapist, effectively supports personal and relational treatment goals as well as community concerns. Art Therapy is used to improve cognitive and sensory-motor functions, foster self-esteem and self-awareness, cultivate emotional resilience, promote insight, enhance social skills, reduce and resolve conflicts and distress, and advance societal and ecological change.”


Art Therapy is not just about making art. In fact, being skilled in making art is not needed to benefit from Art Therapy. Art Therapy involves exploring one’s challenges and strengths through the creative process, with a Master’s level art therapist present to guide the sessions and help process the artwork and emotions that arise. Self expression though art is like exploring oneself from a different angle, one with which we are less familiar. It allows us to see ourselves more objectively and can provide an outlet and a space to explore difficult emotions, often better than words can do.

In recent years, the trend of ‘Adult Coloring Books’ has been on the rise. Though this activity can be an effective tool for stress relief for many people, it is very different from professional Art Therapy sessions. Using coloring books or painting for pleasure can be thought of as using art in a therapeutic manner. In a professional Art Therapy session, art and creative activities are used in conjunction with psychotherapeutic processes, to allow for increased self-expression and understanding within the session. Art Therapy may only ethically be provided by a Master’s level Art Therapist.

For more information about the field of Art Therapy, please visit The American Art Therapy Association and The Pennsylvania Valley Art Therapy Association