Social workers have many tools in their tool boxes, and use a variety of different techniques and approaches every day. Some clients respond best to unconditional positive regard, others to strong boundaries and clear goals, and others to concrete behavioral outcomes. Each of these tools and techniques serves a purpose, and are thoughtfully applied by a skilled social worker.
Art Therapy techniques are valuable and unique tools that social workers can incorporate into their tool boxes in order to achieve the goals already established with their clients. Art Therapy is a helping profession that uses the creative process to enhance physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing. Art Therapy techniques access the creative and expressive part of the mind, opening up new doorways for exploration and healing.
Art Therapy can be particularly helpful with clients who are struggling with traditional talk therapy techniques. After the death of her brother, Cindy* (*name changed) started acting out. Her grades were falling and she began experimenting with drugs and alcohol. The school counsellor tried traditional talk therapy techniques, but Cindy was defiant and often stated, “I have nothing to say!”
The school counsellor referred Cindy to an Art Therapist who specialised in grieving teenagers. Rather than talking, the Art Therapist provided Cindy with a variety of art materials, and the space to create without judgement. Cindy created an art journal, using a variety of images, colors, and textures to represent her feelings. Over time, she was able to put words to these feelings, and eventually to process the impact her grief was having on her life.
The arts provide an alternative way to access feelings and memories without the use of words. And clients do not need to be artists in order to benefit! In fact, having little or no formal artistic training can be an advantage for art therapy clients, as it frees them from rules and expectations regarding how artwork should be created. In Art Therapy, there is no right or wrong way to make art, and the focus is not on the product. Art can become a metaphor, a sensory representation, or a concrete symbol of a feeling or a goal.
Art Therapy techniques are versatile, and can be used with all ages. Art Therapy is used in couple, family and group settings. Clients can work with partners on a shared art experience, creating opportunities to both create in the moment and to process how working together felt. Group work also provides many opportunities to demonstrate and explore group dynamics.
Many social workers and helping professionals find that pursing Post Graduate studies in Art Therapy provides significant advantages in their careers and treatment approaches. Learning and incorporating these research-supported techniques provide even seasoned professionals with new ways to engage with and empower their clients. In these times of increasing challenges, who doesn’t need a new tool for their toolbox.
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