Debunking the Myths of Art Therapy
Are you curious about art therapy, but not sure if it's right for you? A lot of people approach the art therapy process from a place of fear and discomfort, due to personal misconceptions about what art therapy really is. But, I want to set the record straight... And, to do so, I'm going to need to debunk those myths you've been holding onto. Get ready!
Below are five of the most common myths I hear when people come into the art therapy space for the first time...
1. I HAVE TO BE AN ARTIST
You don’t have to be an artist to benefit from art therapy. In fact, for many people who identify as artists, art therapy poses additional challenges, because they are used to creating and analyzing art from a different lens. The purpose of art therapy is not to create the most beautiful drawing, or professional sculpture, or gut-wrenching photograph… it’s about discovering a new way to express yourself and tell your story. As I've mentioned before, this is incredibly helpful for those of us who struggle to find the words to describe our experiences.
2. YOU ARE JUDGING AND CRITIQUING MY ART
Absolutely not! I can guarantee you that the last thing running through my head when I look at a client’s art work is “well, that could be drawn better.” My role as an art therapist is to help guide you through the expressive process. If you get frustrated with the way something looks, let me know! We can problem-solve it together. That being said, I don’t care if you use scribbles, stick figures, or realistic drawing techniques. You do what you need to do to express what is happening inside your mind and body. When you let go of your inner critic and lose the expectation that someone else is judging your artwork, you are more free to express what is really going on and THAT is my mission.
3. YOU ARE GOING TO INTERPRET MY ARTWORK
Nope. Your artwork is yours alone and only you can tell me what it means. While there is some evidence that certain symbols and themes may indicate trauma history or different mental health diagnoses, I will never assume something about you based on your artwork. You interpret your artwork, not me. I will ask you to tell me about a piece of art when it is finished and I may ask follow up questions about specific colors, shapes, or symbols, but I will always defer to you to tell me what something means. A color, shape, or symbol may mean one thing to one client and something completely different to someone else!
4. THERE IS A RIGHT AND WRONG WAY TO DO IT
The beauty of art therapy is that there is no right or wrong way to do something. You have full control of your artwork and the art process. I may suggest you stick to a particular theme, but you have the power to say no and create something else entirely. You also have the power to select which supplies you want to use, based on your mood. If I make a recommendation, I will let you know my reasons for that recommendation and we will discuss it together. Ultimately, you are in control of your artwork, which can be an incredibly empowering experience, especially if you're used to feeling out-of-control or powerless in your life.
5. ART IS FOR KIDS
I have seen so many people come into the art therapy space and mumble something like, "The last time a saw a crayon, I was in first grade!" Many of us stop believing in our own creativity as we grow up, due to critical comments we may have told ourselves or heard from others as children (read this post to learn more). The truth is that everyone has the ability to express themselves through artwork. You may need to shift your framework a bit and let go of your preconceived expectations of what "art" is supposed to look like.
I have found art to be an incredibly powerful and safe way for me to share my story, especially regarding experiences that I recalled with great shame or was told not to talk about. When engaging in an art therapy session, it can be helpful to focus on the process of creating art rather than the product. And, remember, it's not about the quality of the artwork produced! As we grow up and our lives become inundated with tasks and to-do lists, finding time to play becomes more and more challenging. Imagine how healing it would be to give yourself the gift of play in your therapy space!
Please feel free to contact me if you want to learn more about art therapy or, if you're ready to try art therapy, e-mail me to schedule a free 15-minute phone consultation. In the mean time, I encourage you to schedule some time to get creative this week and see how it feels.