What is Art Therapy?
Art Therapy in Philadelphia PA, Ocean City NJ, Santa Fe NM, and Mechanicsville VA promotes healing and change through guided and spontaneous art making within the context of a supportive, therapeutic relationship. A key tenet of art therapy is the acknowledgment that humans are complex beings best understood and nurtured through both verbal and non-verbal means. Creative expression is one way to engage our non-verbal sides.
Art therapy can be an approachable and empowering tool to access and process emotions, memories, and experiences that are often hidden under the surface. You might consider art therapy if you are seeking the meditative, expressive, and cathartic quality that it brings to therapy. Clients who participate in art therapy often notice positive changes in their lives from decreased anxiety and depression to finding relief in processing trauma—whether they identify as an artist or far from it. Art experience is welcome but absolutely not necessary.
Participating in Art Therapy at The Center for Growth, in Philadelphia PA, Ocean City NJ, Santa Fe NM, and Mechanicsville VA
At The Center for Growth, adults and teens can benefit from art therapy. Art therapy can take many shapes and forms, but generally pushes us to play, be spontaneous, pay attention, and to adapt. It asks us to learn about ourselves, to trust ourselves and the creative process. It encourages us to make mistakes and to recover from them, to notice and marvel at the creative ideas and impulses that live within us. These experiences, happening within a therapeutic space, can translate to positive changes in other areas of life. If you are looking to grow in any of these areas, it can be helpful to experience them in therapy alongside a specialized therapist.
How is Art Therapy Used at The Center for Growth, in Philadelphia PA, Ocean City NJ, Santa Fe NM, and Mechanicsville VA
Many people wonder about exactly what an art therapy session entails and how it differs from art making outside of the context of therapy. Similar to most other therapy modalities, art therapy sessions look different depending on the goals clients are coming in with. Each session is catered and tailored to client goals so that individual needs are being addressed in every session. In that way, art therapy sessions differ from a creative arts class, for example. While art is used in both, an art therapist takes into consideration what you are working on in therapy and suggests particular art making activities, materials, or methods that they think will help serve your goals. In addition, your therapist has training in psychology and is there along the way to process your experience and anything that arises during or after art making.
Art Therapy for Anxiety in Philadelphia PA, Ocean City NJ, Santa Fe NM, and Mechanicsville VA
As an example, let’s say you are coming into therapy for trouble with anxiety and would like to improve your coping skills in order to manage it. Sometimes, it is so hard to describe in words what something *feels* like, especially something like anxiety which many people experience in their bodies. To begin, your art therapist and counselor may offer you different options to visually represent what your anxiety feels like. In being able to describe and show your anxiety, your therapist will have a better understanding of what is going on for you and what you experience, which will help in attempting to manage it. Along the way, you yourself may grow a deeper understanding of your anxiety. Though it often follows similar paths, everyone’s experience of anxiety is personal to each individual and making sure you and your therapist are on the same page about what is happening for you is an important part of the process.
To continue, many strategies in managing anxiety revolve around being grounded in the present moment, since anxiety can often be about worrying about what is going to happen in the future. Bringing yourself back to the here and now makes it a bit easier to soothe that uneasy feeling you might experience and tell yourself that whatever you are worried about will be okay. Grounding techniques, deep breathing, exercising, and the like utilize your senses to help reengage in the present moment. In a similar way, art making can help bring your back to the present moment. After all, it’s hard to concentrate on anything else when you are focused on keeping a messy watercolor from spilling over the page (though messes are okay too!). Art therapists are trained with a deep understanding of a variety of materials and techniques, many of which can be used to focus specifically on promoting and practicing mindfulness. Your therapist might suggest particular activities and ask that while exploring them, you pay attention to what you are seeing, feeling, smelling, hearing, and sometimes even tasting around you—all in an attempt to bring you back to your most basic senses. Overtime, you can develop a regular grounding practice and have an arsenal of tools to help in managing your anxiety on your own.
Art Therapy To Practice Skills at The Center for Growth, in Philadelphia PA, Ocean City NJ, Santa Fe NM, and Mechanicsville VA
Many individuals also come into therapy to develop new skills, like practicing flexibility or fluidity in their thinking and ways of being. They might find that rigid thinking is leading them to more frustration in day-to-day life than they would like. There are so many valuable ways to approach this in therapy and art therapy can be helpful here too. If you want to practice flexibility, spontaneous art making can be an incredible arena to flex those muscles. With your art therapist, you may work through various exercises that help you to trust and follow your own intuitive directions and with the goal of practicing fluidity in mind, make frequent pivots in your art making. Imagine you spend hours, maybe even multiple sessions creating something you’re really proud of. You put time, effort, and energy into your piece and are happy with the way it turned out. Now imagine you are asked to rip it up, to destroy the piece you have put so much labor into. It might be hard to imagine and definitely hard to do! It’s likely that the discomfort you feel with ripping up your precious work is similar to the discomfort you feel when something you have spent a lot of time planning suddenly shifts and you have a hard time dealing. Except in this case, it is happening right in front of you *and* your therapist and together, you can witness the experience, process what is coming up, and work through ways to manage. In time and with work, you might even be able to challenge yourself to turn those ripped up scraps into something new that you appreciate as well. With exercises like these your art therapist can help you to adjust to changes, at a pace that is responsive to your needs and comfort.
Art Therapy for Trauma in Philadelphia PA, Ocean City NJ, Santa Fe NM, and Mechanicsville VA
If you have experienced any form of trauma, you may know that sometimes, it is so difficult to put into words what you are feeling. There might be intense shame, stigma, or judgment you feel about your trauma and in those situations, talking about your experience can feel intense or difficult. Art therapy is often used in treatment of trauma as it offers an accessible approach to processing your trauma. There is a great deal of research that tells us that body-based, or bottom-up approaches (like many forms of art-making) are helpful in treating trauma. That’s because trauma often impacts parts of the brain that are responsible for regulation and fear response. Though talking and cognitive or logic based approaches are important, they do not address the whole picture of how trauma impacts the body. Rhythmic and repetitive activities such as kneading and knitting can help communicate to our bodies that we are safe and out of danger, helping to reduce the intensity of trauma-based triggers.
Art Therapy For Emotional Release in Philadelphia PA, Ocean City NJ, Santa Fe NM, and Mechanicsville VA
Another way art making can be used in therapy is as a tool for emotional release. Let’s say you are holding onto anger from a frustrating work dynamic. For many reasons, you’re not in a position to leave this job so you are stuck with your frustration and it is beginning to carry into your mood and relationships even when you are not at work. Here too, there are many ways to work on this frustration in therapy. Using art making and materials, your therapist may suggest media and methods that help to release frustration or tension. These materials and ways of creating may be more body based, with room to engage in kinesthetic work that helps the body to move and express energy. It might be more aggressive work, like kneading or pounding clay as hard as you can. Maybe it is ripping and tearing huge sheets of paper, the act of destroying. Your emotional experiences are real and deserve to be felt—which is hard to do when we spend so much of the day bottling them up if they’re not appropriate for the environment in which we feel them (like work, in this case). And sometimes, talking about them doesn’t seem to help. Your art therapist is trained to help you find materials that help you to express your wide range of emotions in a healthy and safe way.
Art Therapy for Mindfulness in Philadelphia PA, Ocean City NJ, Santa Fe NM, and Mechanicsville VA
Many mindfulness principles rely on the act of noticing. You can be intentional about noticing your thoughts, sensations, feelings, food, and so on. Art materials and activities can be tailored to help with your practice of noticing as well. By giving you a specific act to focus on, you can practice mindfulness skills like staying in the present moment, being grounded, connecting to your body, and noticing or observing your thoughts and feelings. From there, you can build up your ability to accept your thoughts and feelings without judging them as good or bad, working toward greater self-compassion. Mindfulness-based art approaches are known to help reduce anxiety, pain, and stress.
Art Therapy for Teens in Philadelphia PA, Ocean City NJ, Santa Fe NM, and Mechanicsville VA
Though all of the circumstances outlined above, like anxiety, practicing skills, trauma treatment, emotional release, and mindfulness are all relevant to teens as well, it is worth noting that art therapy can be especially helpful for teens. As many teens are navigating their own feelings, thoughts, and opinions, art therapy is an approachable way for teens to explore themselves and grow insight.
Materials used in Art Therapy at The Center For Growth, in Philadelphia PA, Ocean City NJ, Santa Fe NM, and Mechanicsville VA
Based on these few examples, hopefully it is clear that materials used in art therapy vary widely! From clay to watercolor to fiber to kitchen spices to natural materials from your last walk in the forest, there is room for many materials in art therapy. Materials can be adapted based on what you are working on in therapy. With the help and suggestion of your art therapist, you will work with materials that are most suitable for your needs, goals, and preferences. Whether you are coming into the office for an appointment or seeing us for a telehealth visit, materials will be thoughtfully considered for your work. When you come into the office for an in-person visit, all the materials you’ll need are provided. In the telehealth setting, your therapist will work with you to find appropriate materials based on your needs and budget. Some of the most commonly used basic supplies we will use are:
Good quality scissors that are comfortable to use
Adhesives (I like repositionable glue sticks, hot glue guns, masking tape, clear tape, etc.)
Paper of various sizes, but especially large sheets at least 18 x 24 inches
Watercolor paper/paper of various weights that can withstand many materials/layers
Pens and pencils of various thicknesses and point types
Markers of various colors and thicknesses
Colored pencils with wide range of color palette
Brushes of many sizes
Assorted fabrics of various patterns and textures
In addition, many materials you already have at home can often be repurposed for use in art therapy such as:
Junk mail/various paper scraps
Old magazines or newspapers
Kitchen spices for pigment or dye
Scissors, stapler, hole puncher
Thread and needles
Pens, paper, permanent markers
Natural materials (leaves, fresh or dried plants, branches, seeds, grains)
Hopefully, you have a bit more clarity on art therapy and what it might entail. If you are interested in art Therapy, schedule an appointment with our art therapist, Farhana Ferdous. We also offer an Art Therapy Support Group once weekly. Call 267-682-6847 to learn more. We offer Art therapy at our Art Museum Office Location, in Center City Philadelphia and Virtual in PA. To schedule a general therapy appointment you can do so online or by calling 215 922 5683 x 100