What is Art Therapy?

They say a picture is worth 1,000 words, and that’s especially true for art therapy. This unique form of therapy harnesses the power of creativity to help participants discover inner truths about themselves. It is much more than simply drawing on a piece of paper or playing a piece of music; in fact, there is an official organization dedicated to the practice.

The American Art Therapy Association defines this treatment method as “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 sensorimotor functions, foster self-esteem and self-awareness, cultivate emotional resilience, promote insight, enhance social skills, reduce and resolve conflicts and distress and advance society and ecological change.”

Given those objectives, it’s easy to see why art therapy can be a valuable component of an addiction rehabilitation treatment plan. At Casa Palmera, we offer art therapy as a modality that is in line with our focus on whole-person recovery treatment. By providing patients with a creative outlet for self-expression, art therapy can be part of an enriching and beneficial recovery plan.

Exploring What Art Therapy is All About

Art therapy can be a positive experience for anyone, at any age. Everyone has the potential for creativity inside of them, and the therapy doesn’t require any previous artistic background. The main requirement is that a patient be open and committed to the process of art therapy. 

At Casa Palmera, that process entails assessments and tasks with specific instructions that are used to gain insight into individual patients. The media used in art therapy here include painting, drawing, mosaic making, sculpting and clay work; in general, art therapy can also include performing arts such as dancing, singing and playing music. 

As at Casa Palmera, any high-quality program of this type is led by a trained art therapist. This person usually holds a master’s degree and is well-versed in analyzing patients’ works to detect themes, symbols, colors, and other messages. The therapist then uses these interpretations to enter into deeper exploration with patients into their thoughts and emotions. Art therapist is an occupation that requires multidisciplinary knowledge in psychology, art, spirituality, human development and much more. Art therapists can study in a specialized program that’s accredited by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. (Instructors can also earn the designation ATR, which indicates they are practitioners registered with the Art Therapy Credentials Board; they can also be board-certified, which means they can use the initials ATR-BC.)

Art therapy programs are wonderfully adaptable and can be offered in a range of venues, including rehabilitation facilities, hospitals, community centers, private offices and other locations. Group and individual therapy sessions are available. In any session, the process is equally as important as the finished artwork. There are many different kinds of art therapy assignments, which the therapist can tailor to each patient’s particular situation. For instance, with family sculpture, participants make a clay model of each member of their family that conveys their role; with photo collages, patients can manipulate and piece together images to tell a particular story. Art therapy can be as simple as finger-painting or as intricate as writing a poem or making a mask.

Once an assignment has been given to a patient, she can start creating. Sometimes the therapist will simply observe during this phase; other times, the therapist may find it beneficial to ask questions about what the patient is experiencing as she is creating. When the artwork is complete, the patient and therapist can discuss it in-depth and explore the thoughts and feelings it has brought up.

Benefits of Art Therapy

The ultimate goal of art therapy is to promote increased self-knowledge and develop a sense of healing. It works well on its own, or in conjunction with an overall psychological treatment plan. 

Art therapy can be beneficial for emotional, physical and mental issues. Because it can relieve stress and increase self-esteem, this therapy is commonly used for patients suffering a variety of ailments, including substance use disorder, chronic stress, depression or anxiety and physical or emotional trauma. Children with learning, behavioral and other disabilities can also find art therapy’s creative form of self-expression worthwhile. As patients work through their issues in art therapy, they can gain clarity and understanding, work towards conflict resolution and strengthen their inner voice.

If you want to learn more about the many ways that art therapy can benefit you or a loved one, and see how it can be part of a comprehensive rehabilitation program, contact Casa Palmera today. Our caring and compassionate staff members, including our highly trained therapists, are ready to work with you to meet your recovery goals.


This blog is for informational purposes only and should not be a substitute for medical advice. We understand that everyone’s situation is unique, and this content is to provide an overall understanding of substance use disorders. These disorders are very complex, and this post does not take into account the unique circumstances for every individual. For specific questions about your health needs or that of a loved one, seek the help of a healthcare professional.