The first time you hear the term Art Therapy, it likely brings up more questions than answers. Perhaps you’ve even heard that it isn’t a valuable or a “real” profession. The facts and evidence present a different story.
Art Therapy is an established mental health profession that uses artistic mediums to improve or restore mental, emotional, and physical health. Art Therapy uses peer-reviewed, evidence-based research to support clinical practices and techniques. In Australia, Art Therapists are specifically represented by the professional bodies ANZACATA (Australian, New Zealand, and Asian Creative Arts Therapies Association). These professional bodies, along with the ACA (Australian Counselling Association) and PACFA (Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia) develop ethical, professional, and educational standards for the profession and provide accreditation for Art Therapy coursework.
Around the world, recognition of Art Therapy as a unique and valuable field in the healthcare arena is growing. Art Therapy is practiced in a variety of settings, including mental health clinics, hospitals, rehabilitation facilities, schools, prisons, senior living centers, and inpatient facilities. In the United States, Art Therapists have become commonplace in Veteran’s hospitals, medical centers, and psychiatric treatment programs, where they serve as an integral part of the care team. In the UK, Arts programs are routinely being integrated into healthcare programs. A 2007 report by the Department of Health stated, “arts and health initiatives are delivering real and measurable benefits across a wide range of priority areas for health, and can enable the Department and NHS to contribute to key wider Government initiatives.”
The latest neuroscience research supports the use of Art Therapy in the treatment of a wide variety of conditions, from addiction to autism, to PTSD. Art Therapists use techniques that access different areas of the mind to traditional talk therapies. Our brains process sensory and creative processes differently than verbal input. This gives Art Therapists a unique tool with which to help clients explore both the physical and emotional aspects of their conditions.
Recognition and support for Art Therapy in Australia is growing, although recent government policies may threaten that growth. Accreditation of Art Therapy educational programs in Australia is available, and students may pursue training in Art Therapy through either the VET sector or the Higher Education sector. Coursework ranges from Advanced Diplomas up to Ph.D. level. Melbourne University has recently established a Creative Arts Therapy Research Unit in response to the need for further research. The IKON Institute is one of several organisations that offer nationally accredited VET, Bachelor level degrees, and Graduate Diplomas in Art Therapy and Creative Arts Therapies.
Mental health concerns are growing in Australia and around the world. The 2014-2015 National Health Survey reported over 3.5 million Australians with long-term mental, physical, and behavioral health issues. Art Therapy is a proven clinical profession with unique tools to help make improvements in the efficacious treatment of our citizens. Many of the populations’ Art Therapists treat are expected to increase dramatically over the next decades, making now a critical time to educate and train the workforce of tomorrow. Art Therapists will be needed to help:
- Provide meaningful and effective therapy to the 350,000 Australians living with Dementia, a number expected to double in the next five years.
- Serve the growing number of citizens affected by environmental disasters and violence. Arts therapists have provided individual and family therapy as well as community recovery in the Victorian bushfires, Christchurch earthquakes, and other climate induced disasters around the world.
- Provide therapy services to people at risk of suicide, including males aged 15-44 whose highest risk of death is from suicide.
- Strengthen and support families coping with illicit drug use and addiction.
- Provide services to individuals and families with disabilities, including 30% of NDIS participants who have Autism Spectrum Disorders.
- Promote positive mental health initiatives in schools while combating bullying and negative emotional and social development.
Defending the legitimacy of the art therapies and communicating its power and effectiveness in helping people is not new to IKON or our successful graduates. Many of our graduates gain employment applying for ‘Therapeutic Roles’ when they are intended to be part of a team. The addition of Art Therapy skills and knowledge and the subsequent broadening of the teams’ skill base is greatly welcomed. You can read more about how Ikon Graduate Rebekah Popescu is making a difference here.
ANZACATA, ACA, and PACFA will continue to work together to communicate the benefits and supporting evidence of Art Therapy and wholeheartedly support IKON’s efforts, as a leading Higher Education and VET Training provider in the field, to continue to educate the wider community and reinforce that;
- Art Therapy, as a form of Art Psychotherapy, as opposed to Art as Therapy
- Art Therapy is based on current and emerging research.
- Art Therapists are increasingly being seen as a key profession in the health and wellbeing field.
- Arts therapy is a legitimate profession that sits alongside psychology, social work, and other mental health professions.
- Art Therapy is used extensively in many fields inclusive of Palliative care, Aged Care, Schools, and cancer.
If you have been positively affected by or with Art Therapy, you can help educate and promote the responsible and professional practice of Art Therapy by:
- Providing evidence, testimonials, and updates of what you have been doing in the field.
- Spreading the word among the grassroots and the “grasstops” – continue to share your stories with others.
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 Julliard, K. (1995). Increasing chemically dependent patients’ belief in Step One through expressive therapy. American Journal of Art Therapy, 33(4), 110-119.
 Epp, K. (2008). Outcome-based evaluation of a social skills program using art therapy and group therapy for children on the autism spectrum. Children & Schools, 30(1), 27-36.
 Nanda, U., Barbato Gaydos, H. L., Hathorn, K., & Watkins, N. (2010). Art and posttraumatic stress: A review of the empirical literature on the therapeutic implications of artwork for war veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder. Environment and Behavior, 42(3), 376-390.