About Art Therapy

About Art Therapy


 What is art therapy?

Art therapy melds the principles of psychotherapy with the experience of creative expression. Creative expression through art therapy provides a means of conveying visually, usually through painting, drawing or sculpture, concerns and concepts which may not be easily expressed in words. Visual self-expression in art therapy not only facilitates communication but also accesses and interweaves with other acknowledged benefits of creative process on mental and physical well-being. Art therapy encompasses a range of creative arts therapy approaches wherein art therapists develop a specific area of practice and employ an appropriate psychological approach for each individual. Importantly, art therapy takes place within a therapeutic relationship between an individual or group with the therapist. The triangular relationship between client, therapist and the artwork is considered to be the key feature of art therapy work.

Who is an art therapist?

Art therapists are trained-professionals with the completion of a minimum two-year postgraduate Degree in Art Therapy from local and overseas educational institutions. They have various backgrounds in social work, occupational therapy, teaching, counseling, nursing and the arts.

Art therapists in Singapore are committed to continue their professional development to maintain best-practices in accordance with code of ethics and principles of professional practice set up by the Art Therapists’ Association Singapore and be informed with international standards.

How does art therapy work?

Art therapy differs from traditional art classes or solitary recreational art-making on several levels, but specifically in its focus on the process of the art-making and the importance of the reflective and restorative values of personal artwork. The change may be an increased understanding of oneself and relationships with others, improved self-esteem and the opportunity to look at life’s challenges from a different perspective, with insight and self-awareness. Research on at therapy and neuroscience research is also to understand the effects on the brain through creative expression which may facilitate emotional healing and improvement of cognitive function.

In keeping with the Eastern notion of spiritual gain through adversity, art therapists begin from the viewpoint of potential rather than deficit. This potential rests on belief in the relationship and trust in the process of creating art; helping clients to find meaning and background to their experience rather than focus on symptoms or diagnosis. Art therapy originated in the west but is a Psycho-dynamic therapy and therefore the art therapist responds to the individual client in the most appropriate way for that particular client and is respectful of cultural differences. Providing a consistent, safe setting, offering the most useful art materials and observing the client’s way of working are all important elements in art therapy. Each element has potential to support or bring about the desired therapeutic goals. Art therapists facilitate the making of images or art forms from the client’s imagination often through thematic, abstract and free expression. No particular aptitude for art is required; support and guidance are provided by the art therapist on the use of a wide range of art forms and materials, for example drawing, clay, paint, and collage. The wider use of creative techniques for some people may include the use of photography, computer assisted art-work, rangoli or a sand tray where some art therapists may specialized in these media.

Both the art-making process and the art product play a significant part for the understanding and witnessing to the individual’s experience and inner world, as well as provide means of assessment. Through the process of engaging with the art therapy visual material, insight is reveal and observed which lend greater sense to an individual’s experience and provide an additional means of assessment. However, this material alone is not considered to be diagnostic, the artwork(s) contains the potential to enhance the understanding of the individual’s growth, treatment planning and subsequent care within a professional mutli-disciplinary team. Art therapy is a psychotherapeutic approach whereby, when employed responsibly by a trained professional, the therapy is inherent and ongoing from the earliest stages of the work. The time frame for treatment in art therapy is variable depending on the individual and the reason for referral. Art therapy usually spans several months, sometimes years or useful as a brief intervention particularly for people who have had limited success in other modes of therapy.

Who might art therapy benefit?

The application of art therapy is broad, inter-cultural and not reserved for any single diagnosis or situation. Creative expression through art therapy has been found to benefit people of all ages particularly those for whom withdrawal and low motivation are a concern. It can provide a less intrusive approach for people who find it difficult to express themselves verbally. Art therapy either for individuals or in groups has a primary role in the relieving of isolation. Across the age spectrum, art therapy may offer a means of reaching a child who has learning or behavioral difficulties, providing a sensitive and reliable non-verbal route to expression, or with the elderly person experiencing dementia where creative expression holds potential for the retrieval of memory, language and finding meaning. Art therapy has proved effective as an aspect of treatment for behavior problems, depression, trauma and the consequences of serious physical illness. Art therapy may stand alone prompting change as a primary therapeutic approach; it can complement, provide stability and continuity within other treatments. To this end art therapists remain versatile and responsive to working alongside other professionals within a multi-disciplinary team. For example, in the following areas:

a) Learning disabilities and behavioral problems

b) Loss and bereavement (e.g. illness, relocation, divorce, loss of employment)

c) Palliative care, chronic illness

d) Eating disorder and issues with body image, addiction, psychosomatic illness

e) Mental health needs (e.g. depression, schizophrenia, psychosis)


Where would you find an art therapist?

Art therapists are practicing in a variety of settings in Singapore such as schools (both mainstream and special needs), hospitals, home & hospice care, family services centers, public and private clinics, prisons and mental health institutions.