Champaign, Ill. (WCIA)

Art Therapy is a mental health service which uses art and the creative process to express and better understand the human experience and emotion using applied psychological theory.

Patients of all ages, from kids to adults can use art therapy to addresses a little bit of everything, like depression, anxiety, ADHD, developmental challenges, phase of life changes, coping with medical diagnosis, grieving, or trauma recovery.

The brain is intricate – when creating art, a person can process feelings that are difficult to verbalize.

When a patient is first referred, an initial consultation determines how art therapy can best help an individual patient. Patients start by attending weekly sessions to help develop a relationship with the therapist.

Every session is a little different but follows the same structure. At the beginning, there’s a check-in and warm up that could be a verbal conversation or creating art. With creating projects, each patient’s creative process is unique based on their thoughts, emotions, and experiences. Some patients are able to express themselves in the creative process with minimal assistance from the therapist and others need more direction or guidance in the creative process.

Sessions are patient-focused, and there could be a lot of conversation/verbal processing during the session, or primarily nonverbal processing with self-expression being led by experience of the creative process.

The art projects made help patients open up and gain insight into their own emotions and experiences. One popular project is the creation of a plaster cast of a mask. This project helps a patient define how they’re feeling on the inside as well as what they show on the outside and provides insight regarding self-image and interpersonal relationships.

These art projects help participants explore vulnerable emotions and thoughts without the pressure of verbalizing the experience, but the final project isn’t always the focus. This type of treatment isn’t an art class with a grade – patients may create something they love, or something they will destroy. Feelings can be messy and even ugly, and art reflects this both in the process and the product at times. At times participants also create art products that they are proud of and consider personal masterpieces. Both experiences support the therapeutic process and self-expression.

The end of the session ensures a patient is ready to return to everyday life. Sometimes therapy can make someone feel good but other times it can be a difficult session. This time can be a reflection of the session or as simple as forming a clean-up routine or refocusing on everyday life tasks.

There are also ways to engage creatively at home, such as keeping an art journal or taking an art class in your local community, while this is not considered art therapy, it can provide a therapeutic quality of healing through personal self-expression.

For connecting with an art therapist, it’s important to find a registered art therapist, provisional art therapist, or a board-certified art therapist. Interested parties can also find more information at