Creativity in Art Therapy

Creativity in Art Therapy

Rachel Brandoff (Marymount Manhattan College, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0504-4.ch015
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Art therapists help to access and awaken their clients' personal, latent creativity by promoting art making by the client (Snyder, 1997). Art Therapists aid clients by re-establishing creative thought and flow. They encourage the use of art materials, assist with the engagement in the art-making processes, and facilitate reflection on art made in the context of psychotherapy (Lombardi, 2014). Exercising creativity in therapy is an effective way to develop problem-solving and original thinking approaches, and it ultimately enables clients to generalize these skills towards other areas of life (Lowenfeld & Brittain, 1987). It is not uncommon for people to lose touch with creativity as a result of coping with life stressors, transitions or trauma. Through engagement with art making in art therapy, clients can potentially address psychological blockages that might inhibit or prevent access to creative thinking.
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Art therapists help clients activate their creativity in ways which may provide a catalyst toward reaching desired changes in thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and/or life circumstances. Art therapists encourage the creative process in session and use creative products made in session for reflection, insight, and to facilitate greater awareness (Lombardi, 2014). Art therapy may include simple or complex directives from the therapist or an open and non-directed art making format. Art therapists might present a client with familiar materials or ones that offer new challenges and involve a learning curve, as well as opportunities for mastery and risk-taking. These variations may be adjusted based on the specific issues that the client is facing or addressing. Creativity can be born out of interactions with any art material or directive. An art therapist will consider her client’s need so that she can best direct the client to materials that might facilitate maximum engagement, curiosity, and potential.

In art therapy, clients can use the art making process to learn about him/herself. Art therapists help guide clients to acknowledge, understand, and accept themselves as much as possible, and this can be achieved with the help of image-making (Rubin, 2010). This is particularly challenging in clients with a history of trauma or in situations where clients have reaped some benefit from denying their own reality. Using image-making to tap into the unconscious can help clients break maladaptive patterns of thoughts, feelings, and behavior which may be holding them back (Jung, 1961). Image-making can be a valuable and effective tool for personal development (Wadeson, 1985).

Art therapists know that supporting and engaging the exercise of creativity can be a safe process that accommodates a need for construction and destruction. Many authors have documented the capacity of creative art making as a means to improve memory, focus one’s attention, practice decision making and problem solve (Moon, 2008; Riley, 2004; Rubin, 2010), increase self-esteem and build confidence (Rubin, 2010). Art making also allows for the release of emotions that may have been suppressed or are too complicated to express (Cohen & Cox, 1995; Moon, 2008).

Occasionally people seem to give up on creative endeavors in the face of perceived failure. Perhaps the outcome of an art project does not mirror the artist’s intention nor does it get completed according to his/ her plan. Perhaps there is a comparative element whereby the artist does not view the fruits of his/her creative labor to be as successful as that of another artist’s work. The tendency to compare and contrast can be both natural and also self-esteem crushing. Art therapy is a forum for working through these creative endeavors which would otherwise become perceived failures. Art made during therapy can frequently be engineered on a small and manageable scale. Additionally, within the context of art making, as in life, things often do not go according to plan. This reality forces an artist to call upon an inner resiliency to overcome obstacles. For clients in art therapy, the art therapist is available to assist with this process. The art therapist assists on a practical level, brainstorming possible choices and solutions, and also cognitively works through the process of transforming what feels intolerable.

Exercises in creativity are often rife with conflict and sometimes failure. Handling these experiences appropriately in therapy can allow clients to confront unrealistic expectations and to learn to make allowances that permit a more human experience. Learning to cope with negative and undesirable experiences in life can be an important part of living a full and successful life.

Gladding (1995) writes about setting up the therapeutic space to encourage creativity yet making therapy sessions feel more like play than work. This is often a great benefit in art therapy; clients can engage in learning and growth in the context of having fun. Clients are often attracted to and engaged by creative arts activities, and art directives can be perceived as less threatening and more fun than talk therapy. Although challenging, painful, and intense experiences can be addressed in therapy, a creative environment can lessen the fear of the hard work that therapy often necessitates.

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