Art as Therapy vs. Art Therapy- There’s a Difference.

The common expression “A picture is worth a thousand words” suggests the idea that a visual aid can communicate more than what a person may be able to articulate through the use of many words. So if that’s true its clear that possibly not everyone can fully express themselves with words, especially at a younger age or where there is an emotional barrier, art may be better at telling a story and unlocking underlying emotions more than descriptions of a persons feelings through words. Art Therapist Linda Turner and Art Educator Peter Haughwout explain in depth how art therapy combines this use of art and counseling through strong relationships between the client and the therapist or teacher.

In midtown Manhattan in a small studio apartment is Linda’s office with a Gold Plate on the door displaying her name and profession. The instant you step into the space there’s a feeling of comfort and relaxation which gives one a sense of openness and ability to share. Linda makes a firm distinction between the use of art as a “therapeutic process” and Art Therapy.

British artist Adrian Hill was the first to coin the term art therapy back in the 1940’s, American Art Therapy Association defines art therapy as “The therapeutic use of art making with a professional relationship by people who experience illness, trauma or challenges in living and by people who seek personal development”  What Linda stresses is this relationship between the therapist and the client being crucial to the process, which is why just coloring, or painting or doing art recreationally may be therapeutic but it’s not therapy.

Art can benefit people in many ways. Many psychiatric institutions and hospitals use art as a trauma relief activity for patients. Current Art Teacher at Syosset High School actually started his career with just that.

As students run to their next classes and teachers rush to say the last minute homework assignments Peter Haughwout enters the room with an air of zen that only someone who has worked in art for so many years can behold. He smiles as he thinks back to his years working at THAW (Talented Handicapped Artistic Workshop) and Northshore University Hospital and reminisces about the day he was hired and explaining to the patients how to use the art materials. Many patients, he says, aren’t comfortable moving clay and working with tough mediums so he starts them off on less stressful things like drawing or coloring. For the more ambitious people he also shows them how to set up art boards and even do some minimal woodwork. He says he believes his work there was to help patients who had undergone trauma get some of that emotion out and lessen the stress they were enduring.

There is a definite line between art as a therapeutic system and art therapy. Linda and Peter describe these processes as if it’s an art in it of itself. Linda says, there are many different approaches to art therapy and there is really no right or wrong approach. While some may use paint and guided meditation, others may use collages to put together meaningful words and images on a singular page. Art therapy is simply a way to tap into the mind with a more indirect, creative approach.

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