Art Therapy in Practice

The following is a guest post by one of our Featured Guest Authors, Sheree Sams. She’s written a great introduction to art therapy and, in this article, covers the basics of using creativity and art in the practice of therapy.

Art and Expressive Therapy in Practice

by: Sheree Sams

School Counsellor, Art & Expressive Therapist.
MA Art Therapy, PG Expressive Therapy, BA Psychology, Dip Welfare.

About Art Therapy

Art therapy, therapy that uses art to explore feelings, ideas and thoughts, is in essence the interplay of communication where we as counsellors embrace and behold, assert and listen, learn and grow, contain and imagine. The power of creativity; of art, music, dance, drama and play, provides insight and direction for navigating the human soul, wherein lies human potential.

As counsellors, working with people so much of the time, we often become ushers, escorting people to themselves, or tangibly to a seat in the therapy room whether it be a chair, or floor, where they can re-discover themselves. The process of which involves guiding individuals in and out of brokenness, senses of the self, grief and loss, beauty of dreams, and so much more.

Art therapy can be used by a counsellor in working with people therapeutically, whether this is facilitating a group or counselling one on one. Art and Expressive forms are magically exquisite tools that somehow defy boundaries while at the same time creating them. This is the case as we do not need to rely fully on verbal interplay, but have a myriad of options. Do we choose to explain our fears externalizing them through paint on paper? Do we choose to re-in act our memories through role play to experience a sense of re-living them and re-experiencing these in a different way? Do we choose to dance to music or beat a drum to free our tensions? Or do we think abstractly using sand-tray and figurines about a situation to challenge the way we interact? Do we write poetry to re-write what we believe about ourselves?

It is applications such as these which develop creative opportunities for exploration. These are the gateways to learning’s of personal growth and the unveiling of human potential.

One key thing to remember is that, with discretion of the therapist, often times less structure, more fluidity and openness, can produce a productive session. The more one knows about or has insight into the personhood that is the client, the more understanding that comes from the meanings of the art or expressive form. This also helps to avoid the common trap of making ‘interpretations’.

Art is a useful tool to uncover ones deepest sense of self, ones psyche, and also a means of getting to know the client. As themes in the art work emerge it is important to remain sensitive, as the art work is just as ‘alive’ as the client, a connected extension of themselves. When one combines and recognizes these two elements, knowing the person that is your client and viewing themes within the art they create that arise, understandings about Art therapy will crystallize.

By Sheree Sams, 2010 ©

For more information about Art Therapy you can visit Australia and New Zealand Art Therapy Association, or Sheree’s website


  1. Teresa Tavarez says

    A friend told me about art therapy but I wasn’t sure what it was or how it worked so I researched more about it and recently I wrote an essay for my composition class about art therapy. My main focus was on children with cancer. My thesis was that because of the positive effects that art therapy has on children with cancer, art therapy should be implemented more into hospitals and more specifically for children. My main points were:
    1. Art therapy benefits different people (no matter the age or circumstance) and in different areas (physically, mentally, and emotionally).
    2. Art Therapy is being acknowledged more now than it has been in the past.
    3. Art Therapy is not just simple entertainment or fun, it is a powerful tool that can be used to communicate without using words.
    4. It is not neccessary to have artistic talent in order to participate in or benefit from art therapy.
    5. Art Therapy can be very useful on children who are young.

    The research I have done has helped me better understand art therapy and acknowledge it.

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