Exploring ‘Art as Therapy’ and ‘Art in Therapy’

Exploring ‘Art as Therapy’ and ‘Art in Therapy’

by Leigh Burrows (PhD)

What is art therapy? An exploration of the terms ‘art as therapy’ and ‘art in therapy’ and their significance in my learning about art therapy so far.

As I began this educational and clinical art therapy certificate course, I was intrigued to read about art therapy largely falling into two broad types: ‘art as therapy’ and ‘art in therapy’ in the course director’s book (Gray, 2019, p.14). Briefly these terms seem to me to refer to the therapeutic benefits of engaging in the process artistic activities for their own sake -art as therapy- and using the artistic activities as a vehicle for therapy, going deeper, seeking meaning and endeavouring to make the unconscious, conscious -art in therapy- (see Malchiodi, 2012, in Gray, 2019). As I pondered the types I found myself directly experiencing art as therapy and art in therapy and conceptualising art therapy in this way has been of great assistance in deepening my understandings of past and present experiences both personally and professionally.

I want to begin by sharing two contrasting vignettes and a further vignette about the process of interpretation to provide a basis for my understanding of the helpful distinction of art as therapy and art in therapy, something I am also finding very useful in relation to mindfulness and its various approaches and practices.  One more vignette, focusing on activity I facilitated entirely intuitively many years ago, guided by my unconscious, and now made more conscious is included towards the end of this paper.

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