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Art Therapy Recommended by Hippocrates

SPOTLIGHT ON: Mental Health Services

By Megan Harshbarger

Boy Coloring

Visitors to Center for Spirituality and Healing or those who read our newsletter may know that the Center offers art therapy services in its wellness center, but may have only a vague idea of what it is and what it’s for. To promote a better understanding of the many services offered at the Center, this series of articles will cover the different therapies available for those seeking mental health services.

Kathleen Morgan is our full-time Registered Art Therapist and Licensed Practicing Counselor who is available through referrals or by simply calling for an appointment. Kathy is trained in both therapy and art, and has studied and mastered both psychology and human development, having received a Master’s Degree from Mount Mary College in 2006. She has been providing services at the Center for four years.

What Is Art Therapy?

The use of art as therapy goes back as far as ancient Greece and the Hippocratic approach to the practice of medicine. According to an article published this year in the Journal of Medical Ethics and History of Medicine, art therapy was included in the three main categories of the Hippocratic provisions of care and was recommended in the treatment of illness and for the improvement of human behavior1.

In modern psychology, the use of artistic methods to treat psychological disorders and enhance mental health is known as art therapy. Research has proven its effectiveness, but it has not yet become a common place practice in mental and behavioral health. According to researchers Bitonte and DeSanto, “Although effective in client care, the practice of art therapy is extremely under-utilized, especially in suburban areas2.” While finding no explanation as to why suburbanites under-utilize the method, they did site cases where art therapy is particularly effective for a number of conditions (see link below2. Other studies have explored art therapy’s effectiveness for substance abuse recovery, life skills development, cancer recovery, and various types of trauma recovery as well.

What Do Art Therapists Do?

Many of us know first-hand how beneficial creative projects can be on our state of mind, but still have a hard time making the connection between the collection of stuff in art museums and what happens in professional art therapist’s office. An art therapist uses art as tool for both assessment and treatment.

The relationship between the therapist, the client and the art is essential to art therapy. Through these interpersonal experiences, an art therapist facilitates, guides, witnesses and responds to an individual’s art process and art expressions, based on best practices and current and emerging research. Art therapists are trained to pick up on nonverbal symbols and metaphors that are often expressed through art and the creative process, concepts that are usually difficult to express with words. It is through this process facilitated by the art therapist that the individual really begins to experience the effects of art therapy and the discoveries that can be made.

Why Use Art Therapy?

For many people, the traditional communication style of verbal expression is far too limiting when attempting to describe their feelings. Research in mind-body medicine, allied health and integrative healthcare demonstrates that art therapy is an effective, health-enhancing intervention and form of treatment3. As art therapy is considered an expressive therapy, it has the unique power to express emotions in an individual beyond the use of just words or language. This alternative mode of communication brings to the surface many internal issues that can then be resolved with the help of a trained art therapist.

Who Is Art Therapy For?

Art therapy can be appropriate for persons in most any population. Kathy works with children, adolescents and adults in both individual and group settings. As with any therapy, art as therapy is generally used as a treatment for something – usually as a way to improve one’s mental or emotional well-being. Individuals who participate in art therapy have been able to effectively decrease stress, increase self awareness, improve self esteem, develop new skills, and manage behaviors and feelings.

However, art therapy isn’t only for the treatment of mental illness or psychological disorders. It can be used to relieve stress or tension, or it can be used as a mode of self-discovery.

What to Expect

Kathy’s starts by working with what clients feel comfortable doing. She believes that when people come in, it’s ultimately their therapy. It is not a one size fits all, and she tailors an approach that will be most effective for the individual.

“A common misconception about art therapy is that many people feel that they have to be an “artist” to benefit from it,” says Kathy. That is absolutely not the case. Art therapy is less about the finished product, and more focused on the creative process. A client is not judged on artistic talent any more than a client would be rated on speaking ability in talk-therapy.

Kathy works with client’s apprehension and introduces art making at a pace that feels comfortable for them. During a client’s first sessions it can be important to discuss any fears or strong feelings about one’s ability to make art.

Kathy’s approach is to ask questions of the client, rather than supply answers. In art therapy, a client may be asked to make a collage, make some marks on paper, or shape a small piece of clay to illustrate the difficulties that have brought them to therapy. Kathy’s job is not to interpret the art piece, but rather to guide a discussion about it. The meaning of the artwork comes directly from the client and their response to their art. The clients are free to share as much of the meaning of their art as they choose. This process allows a client to distance themselves from their own dilemma and gain another perspective.

Whether a person is struggling with abuse, anxiety, conflict resolution, depression, developing new skills, relationships, grief, parenting, self esteem, self awareness, or stress, Kathy may be able to help. The process used with each individual and family varies. If art therapy does not seem appropriate other approaches such as narratives, EMDR or traditional talk therapy may be used. (These will be explored in future articles.)

For more information on mental health services at the Center or to schedule an appointment, please call Kathy at 414-708-4388.





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