What is an art therapist?


Twenty individuals received their Masters in Art Therapy this year. Every year the small local university nestled in lush hills and shades of green graduates twenty or more art therapists who go out into the field to enable the general population to live a more enriched and joyful life. But does anyone know exactly what art therapists do? Are they magicians who use art to transform lives? Or are they technicians with art as their tool? Today’s art therapists are trained at Marylhurst University (the only university in Oregon with a Master’s program in Art Therapy) to become LPCs (Licensed Professional Counselors).

These students must submit to rigorous studies in psychology, counseling, and art, as well as art therapy. They work with a multitude of individuals – from mental patients at the hospital to children with too much energy and too little focus. They work with teens who are using drugs and gerentology clients who are experiencing dementia. They might also find themselves doing family therapy or working one on one with depressed clients. Whatever the situation, the Marylhurst Art Therapy graduate is certainly well prepared to deal with the case. Each art therapist must secure a supervisor who is in the same field of counseling and apply to a state board for credentialing.

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Marylhurst University. Image by bizjournals.com


Why art therapy? Why not regular counseling? The precept is that art therapy allows the therapist to use a nonverbal tool which works well with a lot of people. It is not just talk therapy, but something that enables the client to become more relaxed and comfortable with, in addition to allowing the therapist to focus on the art and ask more indepth questions of the client. Together the therapist and client help seek an answer to a problem, with art being the third eye, so to speak.

Art is therapy in of itself, but art therapy is a tool that should only be utilized by art therapists who have been through a recognized program and are able to consider risks and benefits and who are also insured under professional agencies. Just looking at art and making art can be relaxing. It can also be beneficial to many individuals, but the complete process is only to be used by an art therapist. It would be like learning to cut open someone and take out a bullet. Doing it once or twice or seeing how to do it in a magazine does not make one a surgeon. There are many other things to understand and know before becoming a  surgeon. The same holds true for art therapy. If you are seeing an art therapist, make sure that individual has had training at a specialty university and make sure s/he is registered with the state.

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Art therapist. Image by careers.nhs.scot

Committing to art therapy treatment can be a defining moment in someone’s life. It can make the difference between living and existing. It can be the joyous celebration of emotional freedom in this hectic journey of life. To locate an art therapist in your area, check out the local yellow pages or consult with the art therapy department at Marylhurst.

The first thing you can expect is that the therapist will get to know you a bit. S/he may ask questions, have you fill out an information sheet, and talk a bit with you. Then you will be asked to complete a series of small art tasks, where you will, in turn, discuss the drawings with the therapist. The therapist will not read into your drawings. Only what you say about your art is what matters. Your therapist will decide with you on a treatment plan and goals for your treatment. Then you will either meet weekly or twice a week for a prescribed period of time. It is important to note that you get out of the treatment what you put in! If you try and communicate, then you will succeed. If you expect someone to do the work for you – then you are headed down nowhere lane.

Art therapy can be very effective in challenging individuals, calming them, desensitizing them, or simply adding joy to an overstressed and burdened life. It can be the least expensive and least harmful way to change your life into a thriving adventure.


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