Art Therapy Overview

Art therapy is a practice where the worlds of art and psychology meet. It is a discipline where art is used as a means of initiating and facilitating the process of healing through art and the expression of images and symbols. Archetypal symbols exist in all cultures. People from all walks of life benefit from making art regardless of what expressive form or material they choose, whether it be painting, drawing, music or journaling, poetry and photography.

Art media is used to promote one‘s personal development, communication skills, enhance self esteem, and build relationships. By interweaving the process of making art with guided assistance, one can allow emotions to be discovered and released in a healthy form. Art therapy can be applied to many different areas from children with behavior problems to teens and adults struggling with addiction and loss. Through the process of making art one can reach beyond blocked and unconscious feelings to a deeper awareness and understanding of personal motivations in everyday life.

Art therapy is a unique and effective approach for offering an alternative means of communication and the expression of deep emotions. When words alone cannot express the inner and outer worlds art can provide an honest look into one‘s fears, obsessions, motivations and personality. Each creative work results in a type of artistic self portrait that can be transformative, thus it may be used to aid in further clinical insight and personal growth.


Carl Jung, one of the most prominent analytical psychologists, encouraged his patients to make pictures and images of their dreams and fantasy material. He had an impact on the beginnings of art therapy. Those who made an outstanding contribution to art therapy are Margaret Naumberg, Edith Kramer, and Elinor Ulman, whose pioneering work recognized art therapy as a field of study and practice. Margaret Naumberg (1882-1983) is considered the mother of art therapy. She founded the children‘s school (Waldon School) in 1914. Margaret Naumberg‘s viewpoint was that art therapy is an “authentic expression of all unconcious material.” She believed the images produced were a form of symbolic speech (Malchiodi 2007).

Art: A Conduit for Healing

To be able to let go of all our pre-conceived notions of what art should be and to open ourselves to what rises from within is an essential part of art therapy. Changes may occur slowly or quickly in the process, they may be simple or extreme. The experience is unique for each individual stemming in large part from their own life experiences.

Art Therapy Applied : The Mandala

The history of symbols and images in art are deeply connected to the restoration of health. The Mandala (meaning “circle” or “completion”) has deep historical roots as a symbol of wholeness and is recognized for its intrinsic spiritual value. Mandalas were originally used as sand paintings in the form of circles for prayer, healing and relief of suffering. Many well known artists such as Vincent Van Gogh and Frida Kahlo have used symbols in their art to express human emotions such as suffering. Creating a mandala is symbolic and may be therapeutic and provide beneficial calming effects. The patterns, shapes, and colors chosen reflect the inner world of the creator at a particular time. A mandala is akin to creating a self portrait: feelings and emotions can be represented.As with most art therapy, the value is in the process of creating rather than the aesthetic quality. A complete mandala is always a representation of something meaningful and personal. There are numerous other such activities in art therapy.