Is it Art Therapy?

When I conduct the Creativity Workshops in healthcare environments, someone never fails to ask me if I’m an art therapist – I am a Registered Nurse and artist.  People automatically assume, and understandbly so, one must be an art therapist when working or helping patients wih art.  As an artist and nurse, I want to introduce the idea and concept of what the arts can do for patients.  Engaging in the creative process, the arts, is healing and should be integrated into healing environments – into hospitals, outpatient treatment centers, doctors’ offices, the VA, residental centers, long-term care facilities (nursing homes), home care, and hospices.

When you engage in a creativity activity, aka the creative process, you become your own therapist.  The therapy (which you facilitate) is to access that space that is intuitive, invisible, intangible, healing, and brings you comfort and pleasure by creating a tangible object.  It can be a painting (in my case), a beautiful garden, poetry, a book or journal, a crafted piece of work, a short story, playing music, singing, helping others, drumming – the medium is not important.  Whatever you are experiencing or feeling will manifest outwardly in your creative project.  Now, this is not to say art therapy is not necessary…it may be for certain individuals who need individualized professional counseling. 

So, the question of “Is it art therapy?” still remains unanswered.  The answer is “yes”, but not in the traditional sense of the title ‘art therapy.’  The nurse/artist/social worker/physician/creativity facilitator is an advocate of creativity by facilitating and encouraging art-making… the patient is her/his own therapist by willingly engaging in the creative process…the therapy is the actual art-making itself.

From review of the literature, incorporating creativity into nursing’s framework of care is more practical, versatile and non-threatening over other therapeutic models, i.e., therapy.  In nursing terms, creative activities can be referred to as “creative nursing interventions.”  Traditional psychotherapy may not provide the best approach to working with patients, because most patients do not view themselves as needing psychotherapy.  Engaging in the creative process is what facilitates healing at the spiritual, emotional, cognitive and physical levels.  In fact, many patients may feel threatened if an arts program is referred to as art therapy.  Rather, patients want to gain a sense of control of an unfamiliar environment. (1)

Email me if you want the bibliography.

3 responses to “Is it Art Therapy?

  1. What a great post. I had never thought of the creative process being introduced through anyone but an “art therapist”. To be honest, there aren’t that many therapists who welcome/encourage the creative process as it is all so focused on the speaking. But it makes sense because in both cases as you point out, the client/patient is supposed, in time, to become their own therapist.

    Great work


  2. Wonderful article and blog! I was a non-traditional OTR and now a full time artist. Art for wellnes …AMEN.

  3. Art in iteself is very therapeutic. It’s a natural stress reliever and offers individuals (especially children) a platform for self expression and an emotional outlet. Thx for sharing.

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