What are arts therapies?
Arts therapies are forms of psychotherapy that use creative activity to help a client access their unconscious, find full range of expression, develop self confidence and promote personal growth. They use one of, or a combination of, art forms such as art, drama, dance, or music, to work therapeutically with a client. They are sometimes grouped together with play therapy, due to their shared emphasis on imagination and creative expression, to help tackle mental unrest.
The theoretical basis of arts therapy comes from Jungian psychoanalysis, Gestalt therapy, and person-centred therapy. Using the ideas of “unconscious”, “projection”, “transference” and “counter transference”, they work with creative tools to access a clients inner world with the aim of providing insight and positive growth for the client.
How do they work?
Arts therapies as mentioned previously use a number of psychoanalytical and person-centred tools to work with a client. For example an arts therapist works very much in the present with the client and puts great emphasis on the therapeutic relationship, taking from the Rogerian idea of developing an empathic, and positive therapeutic interaction to help the client feel comfortable enough to disclose their inner world.
Arts therapists also draw very heavily on Jung’s famous ideas of metaphors and symbols containing the path to our unconscious. Jung was the original pioneer of dream analysis and it has proven to be an effective therapeutic tool for over a 100 years. Arts therapies choose a metaphor (that can either be created by the client or an already established story, painting etc) to help the client investigate the meaning, that is imprinted upon the images, by the client’s psyche.
The idea of metaphors as a “distancing tool” is something I talk about in my post on “Arts therapies and PTSD” and this “distancing” aspect of metaphor, also connects to the Jungian idea of metaphors as a road to the unconscious. By allowing one’s psyche to leave the cognitive space of verbal communication and moving in to the unconscious- the imagination, a client can find things coming to the surface that were previously unknown.
Unlike many other therapies, arts therapies start from the “health” of a client, by working with the inherent creative and imaginative powers that are present in every human being. Every one has dreams, thoughts, creative ideas and abilities, and everyone has some ability to play. Arts therapies use these to help the client find coping mechanisms or new ways to express their inner world, that I would argue (allowing for my bias as an arts therapist!) that other therapies cannot. Everyone is a compendium of stories, but not every story can be told in the same way, arts therapy help to find the right narrator for your story.
Do you have to be “creative” to do arts therapy?
Well the answer is yes, but don’t worry as an arts therapist I believe that everyone is creative, whether they know it or not.
Do you have to have “done” art, drama etc before? No you do not, art therapies are a therapy not a lesson. There is no expectation to be “good”, you are inherently “good” at being imaginative, it is a capacity every human brain possesses in some description. What ever appears on a page or in the room, is “good”, as that is what is present.
How are arts therapies regulated? Can anyone do it?
Arts therapies are practiced widely across the globe in a variety of settings including psychiatric hospitals, not for profit organisations, educational establishments and community groups. The UK, Europe, America, and Australia each have their own governing body to regulate the efficacy and ethics of their practitioners.
Arts and play therapies in the UK are recognised and accredited by the Health Care and Professions Council (HCPC), seen by many global providers as the “gold standard” of accreditation for psychological and health therapies. Training for arts therapists in the UK, Australia or the USA is currently a three year clinical Masters at one of the recognised training providers.
Do they work?
There is an ever expanding evidence base for arts therapies, and it is recognised as a practice by many large mental health providers such as the NHS in the UK, and the public health system in the USA. However, like all forms of qualitative research, the evidence is based on human experience and interpretation as opposed to numerical data. There is now a shift for arts therapies to become more quantitative in its presented evidence.
Suggested further reading
Jennings. S (2011) Healthy attachments and neurodramatic play, Jessica Kingsley, London
Gilroy,A (2007) Art therapy, Research and Evidence based practice, Sage Publications, London
(ed) Dokter. D, Holloway. P, Seebohm. H (2011) Dramatherapy and Destructiveness: creating the evidence base, playing with Thanatos, Jessica Kingsley, London
Winnicott. D W, (2005) Playing and Reality, Routledge (2nd ed.), London