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Art Therapy: What is it?

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As an art therapist, I have encountered many opinions and assumptions about art therapy and have been asked countless times what exactly art therapy is. Below, I will offer a formal definition of art therapy upon which I will briefly elaborate based on my own experiences as an art therapist. I will also discuss what art therapy is not and hopefully dispel some common, and often exaggerated or untrue, assumptions.

Art Therapy: What It Is

The definition of art therapy, according to the American Art Therapy Association (2017), is as follows:

Art Therapy is an integrative mental health and human services profession that enriches the lives of individuals, families, and communities through active art-making, creative process, applied psychological theory, and human experience within a psychotherapeutic relationship.

Art Therapy, facilitated by a professional art therapist, effectively supports personal and relational treatment goals as well as community concerns. Art Therapy is used to improve cognitive and sensory-motor functions, foster self-esteem and self-awareness, cultivate emotional resilience, promote insight, enhance social skills, reduce and resolve conflicts and distress, and advance societal and ecological change.

In my work with clients, I have had the privilege and honor to experience firsthand just how much the addition of the creative process can enhance the therapeutic process as a whole. For some clients, especially those suffering from trauma or those who are very young, art serves as an alternative form of communication when they have no words to describe their internal psychological processes. For others, art can facilitate and deepen verbal communication by unblocking pathways to the unconscious mind. Additionally, art—both creative process and end product—can engage clients in learning new skills and learning about themselves, stimulating personal growth and healing through heightened self-awareness. It goes without saying that the experiences and opinions from one art therapist to the next, or one art therapy client to the next, are never the same. Each individual may have a different idea about what art therapy looks like and can offer. And the spectrum of what art therapy looks like and can offer is a vast one.

Art Therapy: What It Is No

As important as it may be to describe what art therapy is, I find that it is equally important to discuss what art therapy is not. Following are some of the misconceptions about art therapy that I have encountered as an art therapist.

Judgment or Diagnosis via Drawing

Art therapists do not diagnose clients based solely on a drawing or series of drawings. Certainly, a client’s drawings may offer clues about the client’s cognitive functioning, emotional state, developmental stage, and/or hobbies and interests. However, it is less-than-ethical for an art therapist to rely mostly on personal assumptions about clients’ art to pass judgment. In fact, clients’ description of their art is much more important and often given more credence during sessions than the art therapist’s assumptions. I should also mention that art therapy can include a great variety of creative processes, not only drawing.

Arts and Crafts Time

Arts and crafts time at home and at school is a wonderful and important addition to a well-rounded life experience, but it is not art therapy! Art therapy happens during a therapy session under the guidance of a trained professional art therapist. Some art therapy interventions and processes may look and feel similar to a basic “Arts and Crafts” class, but art therapy interventions are intentional and specific to clients’ needs. Moreover, the psychological processing that occurs in the presence of an art therapist after a client has engaged in art making is significant and further distinguishes art therapy from arts and crafts. Any form of creative process (including the use of adult coloring books!) can feel therapeutic and beneficial, but it is not therapy if a therapist is not present.

A Passing Fad

Art therapy is not a new idea. Long have artists known of the therapeutic benefits resulting from engagement in creative processes—Vincent Van Gogh is a particularly poignant example. Carl Jung, an analytical psychologist and contemporary of Sigmund Freud, also experienced and touted the healing power of art making. Others who worked in the field of mental health took notice of the transformative effects of art making among those who were suffering, and art therapy was finally recognized as a formal profession in the 1940s. Since that time, the profession has grown and evolved to embrace changes in mental health care, to research the efficacy of art therapy among various populations, and to help ever more people find healing and growth.

Ashley Sweigart, MS
Art Therapist and Mental Health Counselor

For more information about art therapy, please visit the American Art Therapy Association website:

https://arttherapy.org/

Relationship Tune-Up Packages

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Like cars, relationships run best when we give them regular maintenance. Busy schedules, tight budgets, and the stresses of life cause wear (and sometimes friction) in relationships. The New Year is a great time to invest in a relationship tune up.

In order to serve this need, Carla Munger is offering couples counseling packages focusing on boosting the health and happiness in your relationship. These sessions will help keep your relationship running smoothly, with a focus on improving communication, increasing emotional connection, and working together as an effective team.

The four-visit Relationship Tune-Up package is available at a special cash rate of $200. A couple’s personality-style assessment is available for an additional fee. Insurance billing may be available, please inquire for further information.

Understanding Insurance Benefits & Coverage

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With all of the insurance changes coming in the New Year, we wanted to provide you with a summary of how insurance benefits typically work. The following are useful definitions for you to use when finding out your coverage for 2014.

In-Network Providers: Some licensed therapists (LMHC’s) sign contracts with insurance companies to provide services and are reimbursed by insurance companies at a fixed rate. These contracted therapists are called “In-Network Providers”. Insurance companies prefer that you use In-Network Providers. The contracted reimbursement rates are typically much lower than the rates most LMHC’s charge for services.

Out-of Network Providers: Many insurance companies will also reimburse if you receive services from an “Out-of-Network” Provider. This reimbursement works differently, as there is no contracted reimbursement rate. Insurance companies will typically reimburse either a set amount (for example, $65/session, no matter the cost of the session) or a percentage of the session cost (for example, 50% of the amount billed). You are then responsible for paying the difference between what the therapist charges ($100/session, for example), and what the insurance company reimburses (for example, 50%, or $50).

Deductible: The minimum amount the patient must pay before the insurance company will pay anything towards the charges/benefits will begin. This is paid out of pocket to the provider of the services, not to the insurance company. Often times insurance plans have separate In-Network and Out-of-Network deductibles.

newyears

Happy New Year!

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What moments will define your life in 2014? During a week of new years resolutions to be a better you full of “oughts” and “shoulds”, I challenge you not look ahead so much as look back. What was meaningful in your life this year? What went well? What are you proud of? These questions can help you understand your values and help set goals for the new year that you can attain. Many articles outline what researchers have found are the keys to goal setting. They are these five things:

1. Understandable: Make your goals specific.

2. Doable: Don’t set yourself up for failure, but also challenge yourself a bit.

3. Measurable: How do you know when you have achieved it?

4. Written: Write it on your door, mirror, sticky on your kitchen.

5. Habit Forming: 15-21 days forms a habit.

Although I think these are very essential, they are missing a key component. MOTIVATION. For us to be motivated, we need support from others who know our goals, encourage and hold us accountable to achieve them. We can help with that.

Here is to a healthy and blessed New Year to all of you!

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