I recently fielded a question from an email loop about art therapy, and it made me wonder if perhaps some of you out there also had the same type questions.
For the record, I'm not an art therapist. I do therapy utilizing art. There IS a difference, and that's important to note if any of your characters ever see this type of therapist.
This is not to say that someone like myself, licensed, but with no particular schooling in "art therapy" can't use crayons and paper and glue and scissors in session with a child or adult. I have and I do. The difference is that I don't label myself, advertise, or practice under the notion that I'm an art therapist. This is a HUGE distinction, and the difference between possibly getting sued for malpractice or practicing beyond the scope of your ability.
So what is art therapy all about? Art therapists believe that it is inherently a healing process to be creative. The broken things on the inside are healed through the act of making art as they express themselves authentically and realistically. This is typically thought of as art therapy. There is also the belief that art is a form of symbolism, a way of communicating emotions and working through trauma and conflict. This latter belief is probably the more stereotyped version of art therapy, and is called art psychotherapy.
In reality, if the above words in bold formed a continuum, real art therapy (in the general sense) is somewhere between these two. Art therapy isn't like an art class. There are no grades and no pressure. The images and ideas come from inside the person, and then the therapist can help guide them into understanding those images, finding a meaning for them or a story. I like to use art therapy techniques along with other eclectic techniques in my treatment of clients. I consider art just another avenue for healing, just as I would any technique from various theories. (But that's just me.)
Anyway, just food for thought. In California, saying you're doing art therapy when you're not a registered or certified art therapist is a big deal. When doing my treatment plans, I usually include "arts and crafts" or "art therapy techniques" as interventions, never "art therapy."
Hope this helps when you come to that crucial point in every writer's manuscript when you wonder, "Is this art therapy or therapy utilizing art?" :)