Art Therapy

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” – Pablo Picasso

Basics of Art Therapy

Art TherapyWhat is art? Similar to the notion of beauty, art is a somewhat ethereal discipline that varies in definition based on who you ask. The creative arts typically encompass practices such as making music, painting, sculpting, writing, and drawing. But, the act of creating art can be as simple as doodling. The common thread within these different practices is the creation of something outside one’s self that often mirrors what is going on within their mind, soul, and body. According to Barbara Ganim the foundations of ART can be expressed as:

Accessing emotions
Releasing them through imagery
Transforms stress and pain to assist the body in its own ability to promote wellness

Through this perspective, along with split-brain research that demonstrates that we process experiences, feelings, and emotions as images before we can translate them into words, it is clear that utilizing visual art forms can help to work through traumatic experiences. As Ganim notes, “If emotions are held in the body-mind as images, then imagery rather than words would be the most direct route to get in touch with these painful emotions, and then to release the images of these feelings and emotions through art.”

Health Benefits of Art

Keeping an open mind and surrendering to the process are really all that is needed to tap into the following healing effects of art:

  • Relief from stress and negative emotions in the mind.
  • Release and resolution of pain and tension held within the body.
  • A greater sense of empowerment and self-awareness.
  • The ability to process and move through grief, fear, and anger on a holistic level (body, mind & spirit).
  • A reduction in stress-induced ailments (digestive problems, high blood pressure, joint and muscle pain).

Art Therapy Exercises

  • Creating a Vision Board –vision or dream boards are believed to aid in manifesting what we want in our lives. By selecting images that represent what we hope to achieve, and then assembling those images onto a board (i.e. cork board or poster board), we create a physical representation of what we hold in our hearts. The result is more empowerment and a clear vision of what we want in our world which ultimately helps us to obtain it.
  • Assembling a Collage – similar to a vision board, a collage is an assembly of images. However, with a collage the images need not represent what we want, but rather reflect what resonates with us. In reviewing the images we choose, particularly with the help of a trained art therapist, we can gain greater insight into what is happening within us.
  • Drawing a Mandala – Carl Jung wrote “I sketch every morning in a notebook a small circular drawing, a mandala, which seemed to correspond to my inner situation at the time…only gradually did I discover what the mandala really is: the self, the wholeness of the personality, which if all goes well is harmonious.” See the resources section for more on mandalas.
  • Sketching or Coloring – the therapeutic release inherent in creating art need not be complicated. Simply putting a pen or pencil to paper can result in unexpected and enlightening images. The magic of coloring with crayons not only allows for an artistic release, but brings memories of childhood and a carefree feeling of play.  [Pinterest has some great inspiration for drawing for adults.]

Writing can be a powerful form of artistic therapy as well. Please see the Journaling page for more information.

Art Therapy Resources

American Art Therapy Association  – – offers art therapy research, news, education and advocacy services to its members. Also produces Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association

Art for Healing – Hartford – overview information on the benefits of art healing/therapy.

Art – a blog containing resources, activities and education on art therapy.

The Association of Teachers of Mandala Assessment,– an organization offering courses on mandala assessment.

The Connection Between Art, Healing, and Public Health: A Review of Current Literature – – a detailed review that “represents a sampling of the many potential benefits of art in enhancing health and wellness.”

15 Art Therapy Ideas – an inspiring list of art therapy ideas to help banish negative emotions.

Foundation for Art and Healing  – Founded by Jeremy Nobel, MD, MPH as a means of exploring the connection between art and healing.

International Expressive Arts Therapy Association (IEATA) – – a worldwide, nonprofit organization promoting the expressive arts and offering research and resources to its members.

KaleidoSoul – – a site on SoulCollage from author and artist, Anne Marie Bennett.

RX.Art – the site of Connecticut-based art therapist, educator, and artist Diana S. Boehnert.

Society for the Arts in – a nonprofit organization offering resources and grant information on integrating the arts into healthcare.

SoulCollage® – the site from SoulCollage creator, Seena B. Frost, M. Div., M.A. SoulCollage is a  process of artistic self-exploration using cards that you create yourself.

Tibetan Healing – a site explaining the meaning and healing power of mandalas.


Diana S. Boehnert, MFA. Lecture at The Graduate Institute, November 11 & 12, 2011. An Expressive Art Experience

Ganim, Barbara, Fox, Susan. Visual Journaling: Going Deeper than Words. Wheaton, IL: Quest Books, 1999.

Ganim, Barbara. Art and Healing: Using Expressive Art to Heal Your Body, Mind, and Spirit. New World Library, 1999.

[Last Updated: 6/25/20]

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