Jul 4, 2019 in Art

Helping People See Colors in a World of Black and White

Psychotherapy has become one of the most successful sciences in addressing psychological problems in the society. Professionals in this field carry out a vital role in tackling societal problems that come with mental instability or strain in primary relationships such as marriages by addressing the causes, triggers, influences and resolutions of the same. By means of a variety of methods, they succeed in building relationships, communication, dialogue and change of behavior through improvement of mental health of their patients. Art therapy is fairly recent form of physiotherapy that has proven to be a great success in tackling many anti-social behaviors that plague the society today. The physiotherapy makes extensive use of art media in its communication. Art therapy is practiced by qualified and registered professionals in the field to address a wide range of disabilities, difficulties or diagnosis that may include behavioral, emotional, or mental problems, difficulties in learning, neurological problems, life-limiting conditions, brain and physical injuries of people of all ages. The therapy can be provided for individuals or in a group. Though the sessions intended neither for creativity nor for leisure, they often tend to be enjoyable. Those in the therapy do not need do have a prior experience in art (Edwards, 2004).

Art therapy

Among professionals in the mental health field, art therapy is practiced both in clinical and non-clinical settings. In clinical settings, practitioners are involved in both mental and physical health especially in situations where physical health of a patient has deep emotional effects on a patient. In non-clinical settings, art therapy is used in marriage and family counseling, rehabilitation of convicted criminals and other perceived social misfits and even in creative arts. Many social therapists, therefore, have professional training in a variety of fields that may include counseling, creative arts, social work, and nursing.


In Europe art therapy started to develop in the 1940s. The art therapist Adrian Hill is often credited with coining the term ‘art therapy’. It was Hill who was the first to write on the use of art in the medical process. While undergoing treatment for tuberculosis in a TB sanatorium, Hill suggested the use of artistic work to fellow inpatients. He, then, went ahead to make the first publication on the issue titled Art Versus Illness. Edward Adamson furthered Hill’s work and extended its scope from only patients suffering from terminal illnesses to those suffering from mental health conditions (Hill, 2003).

Adamson later started an art therapy practice at Netherne Hospital in Surrey, Britain in 1946. Later, Adamson established an art studio that allowed people with psychological and emotional problems to come and paint during open sessions. The studio attracted thousands of people over the years. Adamson published Art as Healing in 1984. The book is regarded as an important authority in art therapy. Later, art therapy gained importance, and widespread practice when reputable researchers from various universities and research centers including Dr. Edith Kramer and Margaret Naumburg carried out extensive research on art therapy. Over a period of time, the therapy has become widespread and has been proven to provide real answers to a wide variety of problems.

Art therapy sessions

A typical art therapy session involves the use of assessments based on art in the evaluation of cognitive, emotional, and developing conditions. The session also involves the use of art making in the analysis of mental health (Wadeson, 1989). The sessions take different forms, which include: Diagnostic Drawing Series which is an art interview that uses three-pictures and is most suitable to be administered to those over the age of 13. The test is made up of 3 drawings, each of which takes 15 minutes to do. The patient or client taking the test makes them using flat chalk pastels on a white sheet of paper. Using the materials provided, the test taker is first required to make a picture for picture. The second step when they are supposed to draw a tree. In the third step, they are supposed to express their feelings and emotions by drawing lines and shapes using different colors. The therapist then uses the originality, blending and usage of color, the length, quality and space usage in the lines and shapes an image representation of the three pictures as well as a variety of other indices to assess the test- taker. The Mandala Assessment Research Instrument is a task that requires a person undergoing the therapy to select a card from a deck containing cards with designs of different shapes and colors. They are then asked to explain their choice. From the choice and explanation, the assessor can make an informed assessment of the client’s psychological condition. The House-tree-person test measures one’s personality and is usually used for younger children.

The test-taker is first asked to draw a house, a tree and a person with a crayon while the test-giver asking questions on each picture. The original designer of the test, John Buck, initially designed 60 questions though the test administer is not bound by these and can add their own. In the second phase, the test-taker uses a pen or pencil to draw the same pictures. Again, the one administering the test asks follow-up from which they are able to measure the intelligence of the test taker quantitatively. In Road Drawing art therapy, one of clients or patients is asked to draw their "road of life" which exhibits their origin, life process, experiences, and future intents. The session is used to enhance change and rehabilitation

Current trends

Since inception in 1940s, art therapy has been used to bring happiness and self-acceptance in the lives of those suffering from terminal illnesses. Later, the therapy came to be used in cases of general illnesses, as an intervention in the lives of bereaved children and a distraction from immense sadness. Lately, however, the therapy has been expanded to cover many other fields. Currently, the therapy is widely used in behavioral change programs. One of the most important applications of the therapy is in changing the perception of the world of those who undergo the same. It has been proven that many people, who see the world as comprising only opposites of good and evil, rich and poor, white and black etc., fail to appreciate the beauty of life and the opportunities that life has to offer. Such people are, therefore, prone to depression and emotional problems or to result to anti-social behavior that includes crime. Art therapy is increasingly being used as a way of rehabilitation of convicts as it gives them first hand insight into the importance of societal harmony and enables them to appreciate life as being multi-faceted. In a study carried out by David Gussak among prison inmates in 2009, it was found out that art therapy improves the mood of inmates and makes them feel much more in control of their lives, thus, reducing instances of depression (Adamson,1984). The idea of giving prisoners an internal locus of control has encouraged many correction facilities all over the world to seek the services of arttherapists to aid in the correction process.

Similarly, many hospitals that offer mental health services have integrated art therapy in their programs to enhance the improvement of mental health. Marriage and family counselors are also making use of the programs. Expressive arts therapy is also currently being used as a way of relieving stress or tension, and as a self-discovery mode to those who find life bland and boring or loose the purpose in life. It is also used as a creative outlet. With wide use of art therapy and professions arising from the same, it has become necessary to set regulation of its standards. Various bodies have been set up in different countries to ensure that the practitioners in the field have the corresponding qualifications and that they offer high quality services to those who seek for their services. Such bodies include the American Art Therapy Association. Codes of Professional Practice that stipulate the Standards of Conduct, Eligibility for Credentials, Ethical Principles and Disciplinary Procedures for practitioners have also been developed. As with many other physiotherapy procedures, the practice is more widely spread in the Western World.

Future Challenges

Art Therapy faces various challenges. These include lack of global standardization. There is also inadequate research and publications on the subject. The art has also not been fully developed in many countries in Africa, Asia and South America (Walker, 1992). Ordinarily, these are the countries that would need the services of art therapists the most due to a great number of problems associated with the same. Art therapists also need to come up with ways of laying more emphasis on the art produced in the sessions as there have been many who have criticized the fact that the artistic value of art from art therapy is usually lost due to overemphasis on the medical perspective of the art.


In the perilous world that we live in today, many problems can be solved through perception - Seeing the brighter side of the world. Art therapy attempts just that and has attained remarkable success in many parts of the world. Stakeholders in areas state that art therapy has not been fully established out to take a cue from their colleagues in areas where the same in wide use to put in place measures that will develop this valuable therapy.

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