Art Therapy

Art Therapy Techniques & Guide

In the present age of hypertension and stress people may find themselves overwhelmed by the strength of their emotions which are hard to face by themselves or with other members.

Since the early history of man, art has been an important tool to communicate. He drew things on walls, leaves [dried] etc. to convey his feelings and thoughts to others and this was one of the strongest way of communication which everyone could understand easily. Art has no boundaries; Art is once emotion flowing in a river of imagination.

The aim of art is to provide an outflow of the ‘feel’ of the inner world of the man which is so deep and serene like an ocean but at the same time can be destructive like a devastating tornado. The man’s emotions and feelings are a combination of surprises, sorrows, love, disappointments, fears, submission, anger, remorse and joy. This concept of art is used as 'Art Therapy' to carry on the human service.

Art Therapy provides us a tool to find out the emotions of a person in a helpful balanced environment. Art therapy in other words can be explained as a method or a procedure to normalize and balance the emotional and mental health of an individual. It is a strong tool of psychotherapy for a man to come back in one’s quality world. Art therapy also helps in fighting the negative aspects in a person and helping him to move towards the positive side of the life.

Art therapy is a treatment that can be utilized for any one with the help of art media, images, creative processes and response to the artistic forms as an image of an individual’s development, capabilities, likings, personality, concerns and conflicts.

The American Art therapy association believes that art making is a creative work process and this artistic process is a level curing and life improving.

'As the sun colors flowers so does the art therapy. It fills colours in one’s life.'

To heal a person emotionally, what can be better than an ‘ART THERAPY’?


  1. It is used in medical field.
  2. It is applied in workshops and art studios.
  3. It can be applied to deal the wide age group of children and adults.
  4. It is a useful method used with varied forms like families, couples communities and groups.

To heal a person by improving the mental and emotional level state. Both verbal and visual methods are used.

CLASSIFICATION OF ART THERAPY-It is classified under three groups-
1. ART THERAPY-Here the therapy involves application of principles which rule visual for psychotherapy.

2. CREATIVE ART THERAPY-Here therapy is applied in creative fields.

3. EXPRESSIVE ART THERAPY-Here the performing arts are used for psychological healing.

APPROACH-Art therapy has mainly two approaches -
1 Process Intensive.

2. Focusing on the expression of the art form-Margaret Naumburg believed that it is the best way to utilize art therapy. Here the art form acts as a window to the subconscious mind of the client. It is very beneficial in case of children.

TOOLS USED IN ART THERAPY-We use artistic or creative mediums like-

  1. Canvas.
  2. Sculpture.
  3. Painting.
  4. Other forms like collage.

REASONS TO CHOOSE AN ART THERAPY-A person can choose this therapy due to any of the following reasons-
1.In cases where talk therapy is not effective.

2.Where medication is of no help.

3.Person who is suffering with mental or emotional disorder or may be with both.

4.For children who are unable to express their thinking or feelings verbally.

5.Also useful for the patients suffering with post traumatic disorders as express themselves comfortably and effectively with no verbal communication.

6.Works great with adolescents having emotional imbalances.

7. It is just not limited to these areas only but can be also used for fostering self expression, enhancing coping skills, managing stress, and strengthening a sense of self.

Art therapy just because it is a subject dealing with art does not mean it is any less technically sound and less beneficial as form of any other therapy. Art therapy has different credentials, certificates and standards to which the therapists must be particular about. These are set by the “Art Therapy credentials board’ [ATCB].

STEPS IN ART THERAPY-There are various steps to consider for the purpose we have chosen this method. They are-

A) Assessment-
This step is used to find out the different aspects or to explore the many angles of the person to get a complete picture of a client. The Process may be a session of questions like-What is he going through? What is his outlook towards life? What does he expect from the life?
The session is full of interaction between the client and the therapist. At this juncture the helper has to find out the efficacy of the therapy so as to not waste time if ineffective.

B) Bond Building step-
It is a very important step as it will decide the success story of the client. The bond building activity is essential to make the client feel comfortable and have a safe and friendly atmosphere during the session.
The therapist can introduce ‘art therapy’ to them. There can be a question session from the clients to clear their doubts and also overcome their fear. The bond developed during this time is helpful for both of them to be free and open in all the rest of the steps.

C) The Initial Treatment-
The client is asked to make an art piece which will help in setting the tone for the rest of the sessions. This will also help in overcoming the art anxiety by the client. The therapist guides the client to focus on the expression rather than on the creative achievement. Art offers space to the clients to let their spirit breathe. Here the process starts.

Art is that in which hand, head and heart of a man go together. By John Ruskin

D) Development of Treatment Goals-
The art form is analyzed by the therapist in order to know the feelings or thoughts that a client has in his mind. He unknowingly conveys everything to the helper through his art form. This step along with the first step helps the therapist to get a complete picture of the client’s inner feel or the inner sensitive world. This helps to develop a pattern of the steps required to cure the client.

The quote of Georgia O KEFFE has a similar feel what we have for the client’s feel-
"I found I could say things with colour and shapes that I couldn’t say to the other way- things. I had no words for it."

E) The Mid Phase Treatment-
In this phase the session builds up the directions and the boundaries, both on a personal and professional level. The end of the treatment does resolve the main issues of the client. This term is also responsible to select the techniques which are useful for the client to be healed.
The job of the therapist in this phase to choose the steps which must custom fit the art therapy for each and every client in its own unique manner. The fact lies in the belief that each one is a different individual with its own natural qualities. This phase cover and can choose following techniques-

E1) Exploration Task-
It is a task where the client has to break free the fears and controls so that he is open to the healing process.

Tools Used For It-
The therapist asks the client to draw lines or scribble on the paper whatever suites his mood. It is a helping method for the client to overcome the barriers and relax.

Here the client is free to draw any thing and nothing is told by the therapist. The picture what the client draws is the reflection of his or her inner world. It can be said as the real complete presentation of the client’s psychological world. They are asked to explain the sketch they have drawn.

This is a tough job assigned to the clients to present their drawing. Here the client is provided with papers which are having lines and shapes drawn beforehand.

They have to use them as a starting means to present their drawings. This procedure helps the therapist to know the wide individual response on the same stimuli. It is a good method for therapeutic use.

It is useful in both types of settings-Group as well as individual. This helps in developing a bond between the co-mates in a group or the bond between the therapist and the client.

1. CONVERSATIONAL DRAWING- It involves following steps-
A] The group is broken into pairs.

B] The two people who are assigned a given work are asked to sit across from one other.

C] The communication tools used here are the shapes, colours and lines.

D] Communication and sharing both move together.

E] It helps in knowing each other to a better extent than any other method.

A] Each person is asked to name one object, feeling, an incident or an event. Then the client is asked to draw or portray it on the paper.

B] Next step is that, different member of different groups begin the activity of adding and pasting pieces of paper on the same base paper in form of colours or shapes which are provided by the therapist.

This method or the technique helps the therapist to understand the sharing factor for the same platform by many with different individuals at the same time. It also helps the client adjust themselves in a given environment with different individuals. It is basically sharing of the ‘same space’ with others. Here the therapist comes across the ‘Feel’ of the client very easily.

In this one person of the group or a pair guides the other person to draw whatever comes in the mind and keeps on seeing the other one drawing whatever is directed by him or her. The painter is free to respond to the guide.
The technique promotes the discussion of feelings of dependency and autonomy as well as the acceptance of the behaviour of the other person.

E3) Expressions of the Inner Feelings-
This method helps the client to visualize inner moods, feelings, wishes, dreams and fantasies. This is to help a client to come across and know his or her feelings regarding them self.

‘THREE WISHES’ TECHNIQUE- The client is asked to depict or portray any three or more wishes on a paper. The responses can help us to know things like-

  1. Maturity level
  2. Egocentric strength etc.

E4) Self Perception-
Its purpose is to focus at the client’s awareness on personal needs and body image.
The techniques involved here are –

1.Self- Portraits- It can be done from the realistic approach to the abstract one. Here in a given time the client has to decide quickly the prominent or important feature of oneself that he would like to draw or portray.

2. Immediate States- here the client chooses one or more theme to paint like:
a) “I am “.
b) “I have”.
c) “I feel”.
d) “I do”.

3. Draw yourself as an Animal – Here the client is asked to draw themselves as any kind of animal or as the animal they like to see themselves as similar. The environment is quite light and funny as well as revealing.

E5) Interpersonal Relations –
A) Used for a person or a client to know about others.
B) How others perceive the client.
Techniques – It has following various methods involved in it-

1. Portraits of Group Members- Here the group members are asked to portray each other on a paper. This step expresses the feeling of each one towards each other.

2. Group Mural – here there is working on the large scale by a group. The theme is either given by the therapist in advance or the theme can be chosen by the group members. It enhances cooperation, group unity, fitting of an individual in a big group, self expression in a bigger setting etc.

E6) The Individual’s Placement in the World –
The method helps the client to realize his position in the world or in other words we can say where does the client fit in the world? They are expected to accept it whole heartedly.

Techniques – They are:
A) House tree person – The main aim of this method is to know how a client relates the three of them i.e. a human figure to the other two environmental features.

B) Collage and assemblage – here the client is free to use any material to make his own quality world. The theme may or may not be given by the therapist.

F) Termination –
It is generally initiated by a helper or a client when both of them realize that the therapy is finite. It is clear but sudden and abrupt. It is an important step as the result of the treatment depends quite a lot on the style of the termination.

It can be carried out by prior information to the clients so that they are prepared for it or it can be carried out by emphasizing and focusing on the importance of this therapy. It can also be done by interpreting feelings and behaviour.

It can be quite difficult to handle the pouring down of emotions of the clients as separation in their minds can create a problem. The session can be terminated more effectively by the client and the helper by relooking at the art forms made by the client. The progress can be discussed.

It can also have a question as to what should be done with the art products created by the client during the sessions. The answer should be coming from the client –

1.The client can to keep it as a remembrance to the journey of this treatment.

2.The client can give it to the therapist as a token of respect and as in memory of the bond built between the two.

The options can be many more. This process of ending is a valuable one as it allows the client to move away from the traditional intellectual expressiveness toward a more purely emotional response.

I would like to share few lines with all of you-
Man will begin to recover fast as soon as he brings 'ART' in his life.

I, Neerja Bhatnagar sign off from my article ‘Art Therapy’ leaving you here with a thought –
“What is not an art? “

Author’s profile - Ms. Neerja Bhatnagar is an environmentalist, a lecturer, a social worker, a classical dancer and a soft-skill trainer/ consultant. She is a recipient of various academics and literary accolades including President’s Gold Medal and Directors Silver Medals at university level. Travelling and good music are her passion. Presently she is engaged in pursuing an advanced diploma in counselling and guidance.

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