Expressing Your Colors ~What is Art Therapy

Updated: Jul 6

Life is messy! The world around us can be so obstinate that it can be hard to make sense of it all. Communication is central to sharing our stories, but at times there are no words that can describe what we're feeling. Art therapy is a therapeutic avenue that gives a voice to what we think but sometimes cannot express. Rooted in the concept that creative expression cultivates mental well-being, art therapy is built on the integration of psychotherapeutic fundamentals and creativity. The American Art Therapy Alliance defines it as the "deliberate use of art-making to address psychological and emotional needs.” Art is the culmination of our personalities, and by using it as a tool, we can color our thoughts, emotions, and experiences. In an article by Candance Osmond, she outlines that in a session patients create something and the therapist is interested in color choices, objects and components of your artwork. Their job is to help interpret these elements and the emotions that they bring up.


Despite the previous historical prevalence, art therapy was not a formal practice until the 1940s. The profession found its cornerstone through the work of Austrian neurologist, Sigmund Freud. His theory on psychoanalysis brought focus to unconscious mechanisms and the effect on human behavior.

Illustration by Joshua Seong, Verywel

The famous “iceberg” illustration depicts his concept, showing different levels of consciousness above and below the “waterline.” Working in conjunction with cognitive psychologist and linguist Steven Pinker, he realized that language could not fully express the sentiments of the unconscious mind. In 1872, Ambroise Tardieu’s work with the mentally ill established visual characteristics and symbolism in drawings created by his patients. These associations became pivotal in identifying specific mental disabilities.


(Photographs by Jim Frank) These drawings are examples of the type of work analyzed by Ambroise Tardieu in his study of the mentally ill. The patients who created these drawings were diagnosed with schizophrenia.



Margaret Naumburg expanded on the symbolism of art to helping patients with blocked speech by associating words with the images they had created. Naumburg’s pioneering approach taught patients that art could be a reflection to see their unconscious impulse and attain awareness of their reactions. This groundwork has enabled the modern world of psychology to leverage art therapy in the healing process for those who need it the most.


Drawchange brings art therapy-based programming to impoverished children around the world. Art helps children interpret emotions that when combined with the struggle of poverty can become overwhelming. Our adoption of Freud’s base allows us to promote resilience and foster self-confidence despite their challenging environment. The day to day life in poverty and homelessness can seem like a dull trap to the dynamic artist veiled in each child we encounter. Drawchange is a stepping stone for our youth to dive into their unknown and discover the immense possibility realized through their imagination.

References

-“About Art Therapy.” American Art Therapy Association, 2017

- Osmond, Candance. “Everything You Need To Know About Art Therapy ExercisesMostCraft, MostCraft, 15 June 2020

- Seong, Joshua. “Freud's Iceberg.”The Preconscious, Conscious, and Unconscious Minds, Verywell Mind, 11 Mar. 2019

- Arnheim, Rudolf. “The Artistry of Psychotics: Art Works Created by the Mentally Ill Spring from the Same Basic Psychological Roots as Do the Works of Other Artists.” American Scientist, vol. 74, no. 1, 1986, pp. 48–54. JSTOR

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