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Art Therapy: What It Is, Types, Benefits & More

Last Updated: November 20, 2023

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Art therapy is a non-traditional type of therapy that involves a trained therapist using different types of artistic creation in a session to help clients explore complex feelings and behaviors. Art therapy can be an excellent way for those with difficulty communicating verbally to explore their emotions safely and productively.

What Is Art Therapy?

Art can be a powerful tool in helping to express emotions and process complex feelings. Art therapy allows those with trouble communicating, such as young children or cognitive impairments, to express themselves and work through emotions. Art therapy was founded on the principle that artistic expression can improve emotional well-being. Art therapy does not just include painting. Art therapy may have clients explore mixed media, ceramics, photography or woodworking. Art therapy differs from traditional therapy in that it involves a physical aspect of emotional work through creating art, in addition to talk thearpy. 

History of Art Therapy

Art therapy may be more prevalent in today’s world of therapeutic interventions, but it has been around for many years. Art can be traced back to early human history in various forms, such as cave art and is one of the first forms of communication to be put down permanently. 

“Art Therapy” was first coined in 1942 by Adrian Hill. Hill created art during World War I while on the front lines. Hill states he used art to help him cope with his tuberculosis diagnosis. He later became the first official art therapist and helped to spread the practice worldwide. 

Today’s application of art therapy allows it to be customizable and flexible for various mental and physical health diagnoses and for any age, gender or capability.

Types of Art Therapy

Art therapy is a very individualized type of therapy that can be done in many different forms. Forms of art therapy can include but are not limited to:

  • Painting
  • Sculpting
  • Drawing
  • Collage
  • Photography

A therapist may be more involved in certain types of art therapy, such as painting or drawing in the actual session versus photography or sculpting, which may take place outside of the session and interpreted with the therapist at a later point.

What to Expect in Art Therapy

Art therapy sessions will typically begin with the art therapist letting a client choose what kind of art they want to create or help provide suggestions if needed, depending on the initial check-in with their client. Therapists tend to take a passive role during art creation and observe their clients while they create art. Sometimes, they will watch body language or pay attention to the type of art modality their client chooses to complete. 

After the art is complete, the art therapist will engage the client in an open and unbiased discussion about the piece they created. The goal is to use the art to interpret the client’s feelings and how to process them. 

Uses for Art Therapy

Art therapy can benefit many mental and physical conditions. Art therapy has been found beneficial in helping the following, but not limited to:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Stress reduction
  • Traumatic Brain Injury
  • Trauma
  • Sexual abuse
  • Depression
  • Schitzophrenia
  • Dementia
  • Pain management

How Art Therapy Works

Art therapy is a way to use non-verbal communication to process thoughts and feelings. Through various art modalities completed in an art therapy session, conscious and unconscious feelings may appear in the artwork and be discussed with the therapist and client. Art therapy can also be a less stressful way for a client to explore distressing feelings without explicitly talking about them aloud with a therapist. Art therapy can also be a part of a larger treatment plan for a client who is in other types of therapy, such as addiction treatment. 

Benefits of Art Therapy

Art therapy has been found to have many benefits to those who participate in it. Art therapy helps clients access their emotions and become more self-aware through discussing their art. Client’s art can help them become more introspective, and talking with their therapist can encourage a higher level of self-worth, decrease stress and manage complex emotions. Art therapy may not be appropriate for every patient and should be evaluated as a part of an extensive treatment plan if necessary.

Art Therapy in Addiction and Mental Health Treatment

Art therapy has been shown to help treat those in addiction and mental health treatment. The use of Art Therapy in addiction can be traced back to the 1950s, with positive outcomes documented. Art therapy helps to treat addiction by engaging clients in a creative process that has been shown to help reduce denial of their addiction, lessen resistance to addiction treatment and help motivate clients to want to change. Art therapy is also known to help reduce anxiety, stress and depression, which can all be symptoms of addiction.

Art Activities at The Recovery Village Kansas City

If you or a loved one is interested in having art activities be a part of addiction or mental health treatment, The Recovery Village Kansas City offers art activities in their facility. To learn more about the art activities available, contact the admissions team at The Recovery Village Kansas City today.


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Laurence, Emily. “What Is Art Therapy? Types, Benefits And More.”, April 28, 2023. Accessed Novemebr 14, 2023.

Tiret, Holly. “The benefits art therapy can have on mental and physical health.” Michican State University, June 8, 2023. Accessed November 14, 2023.

Aletraris L, Paino M, Edmond MB, Roman PM, Bride BE. “The use of art and music therapy in substance abuse treatment programs.” J Addict Nurs, December 2014. Accessed November 14, 2023.