Interview from UT Psychology/Sociology Student

Brooke Brown, a University of Texas undergraduate student, recently interviewed me for her Psychology of Art course she is currently taking in Lima, Perú.

  • How would you define the type of art therapy you practice?

I am eclectic and client-centered.  I blend in my expressive arts practice into either deep psychodynamic work or brief solution-focused approaches, depending on the client’s needs.

  • What drew you to the work? Did you know you wanted to go into the field a long time prior to doing so, or was your path to the work less planned out?

I was in high school when I first learned about art therapy from my older sister.  In college I ended up majoring in art studio and minoring in psychology.  During my junior year I searched the college’s career data base for art therapist alums and found 2 in the D.C. area.  During my Fall Break I visited them and knew immediately upon seeing their work that it was what I wanted to do.

  • What media do art therapists use? What medium do you primarily use?

Clay, assemblage with mixed media or recycled materials, collage, painting, oil and chalk pastels, pencils, charcoal…the possibilities are endless!

Each media used elicits different results in the therapeutic process.  This theory is called the Expressive Therapies Continuum (Lusebrink).  For example, if clients are very cognitive, they tend to gravitate to more controlled media such as pencils, rulers, etc.  However, to access feelings, I may gently encourage looser art media, such as oil and chalk pastels, painting…and eventually clay.  This is why I state in my work mission for Airhart Therapy:  To connect head and heart with hands to make art in therapy.

  • What is the goal of art therapy? How does it work to achieve this goal?

To create a safe and confidential place for clients to share their thoughts, feelings, and needs using their words and their art.  My goal is to integrate the right and the left brain and to make meaning out of the struggles of life.  In general, I structure therapy sessions to include three components:  1) feelings check-in 2) expressive art activity and 3) verbal processing.  

  • How do art therapy and more traditional styles of therapy differ?

Traditional therapy relies heavily on verbal communication, which can be intimidating and analytical for some.  Art therapy, however, uses art and words in a very integrated approach that uses the right and left brain together (the feeling with the thinking) and doing so through via the creative process.  Some people can hide behind their words, but art is a truth teller.

  • When and why might you suggest art therapy as an alternative to more traditional counseling?

Art therapy is an excellent modality for clients who are introverts and highly sensitive people.  It allows clients to slow down and communicate their thoughts/feelings in a deep and meaningful way that is not intimidating.  It is also ideal for non-verbal clients.

  • What sort of clientele (in terms of client demographics and client issues) are best suited for art therapy?

It is appropriate for all ages and client issues, even people who are not artistic. The American Association for Art Therapy has a great one-page resource that describes in more detail this same question:

  • During therapy sessions, do art therapists engage in a creative project along with the client, or only observe and facilitate the client’s project?

I love making art alongside clients but I also enjoy watching/supporting others make art as well.  It is magical to see the process unfold.    With many of my teen clients, I make art in response to their art/issues and this art becomes a catalyst for healing.  It also allows for more comfort for the client, since many teens do not want someone watching them make art due to self-consciousness.  However, many of my younger clients need assistance in making their art and I serve as an assistant to their art process.

  • Have you personally benefitted from art therapy as a client (or from individual artistic pursuits)?

Definitely, I continue to learn and grow from my own art and from my own therapy.  I believe it is integral to my health and well-being as a therapist.