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Adults in Art Therapy: It's not what you think...well maybe

by Lauren Fallat, MA LPC ATR-BC

Someone mentioned art therapy to you and your immediate thoughts were…?

Some envision a colorful art room setup for a child with crayons, markers, pom poms, stickers and glitter pens. Others envision an intimidating art room filled with art materials you have no idea how to use and with the potential to unleash past relational traumas with critical art teachers. You might have a unique idea of what art therapy means to you as an adult- as someone with responsibilities, demands, priorities, dependents, bills, and commitments. Art in the context of therapy might seem liberating and relieving, or it might seem like a process that is regressive and child-like. And in a way, there is space for those things to be true all at once for an important reason.

As an adult, it is at times difficult to remember the parts of ourselves that enjoy playing, discovering, experimenting, being free from demands, and seeking new ways to interact with our environment and the tools in front of us. Often as adults there are expectations that we may put on ourselves or that we believe others have put on us to perform in a manner that is productive, efficient, mature, composed and contained- a pressure to be someone not so short of perfection.

In adulthood we are often making decisions that reflect our own values- think about how you spend your time and often that will provide a picture of the values that you are living out in your daily life. Time becomes more important to us as we experience its loss, its fast pace or slow pace in our lives. As adults we might make time for our jobs, our families, our friendships, romantic relationships, hobbies, side hustles, fitness, academic pursuits, medical needs, mental health, and demands (such as mandatory appointments, chores and acquisition of basic needs).

At a point in time where life may seem so demanding, it might for some seem necessary to find an outlet that is focused more on creative self-expression, on inducing joy and relief rather than stress and pressure, on favoring curiosity and exploration rather than just favoring mastery and skill. There is this desire to gain something more from life than just repetitive activities that may or may not be fulfilling for the soul. In adulthood, we are tasked with balancing what is important to us and continuing to re-define and establish our values. We might at times feel stuck, feel lost, feel angered, feel depressed or anxious. In these moments we are experiencing a disconnect from one or more of our emotional needs- an unconscious realization that we are suffering in some way.

In art therapy, adults have the opportunity to tend to these emotional needs and reconnect with emotions that often get placed on the side or invalidated. There is a space to reconnect with our inner child and repair experiences of pain and hurt that have been neglected over time. There is a chance in art therapy to build resilience- to enhance one’s own ability to overcome and thrive in adverse situations. Working with art materials in a therapeutic setting almost forces us as adults to encounter our inner children and to push through feelings of shame, fear, guilt for having fun, and sadness. We are dismantling this very idea that we are not worthy of learning something new, of enjoying ourselves, of not having everything planned out, of not needing to know exactly how everything works. We are choosing courage over fear. A courage to try something difficult or uncomfortable or unexplored in hopes that it will lead to a new discovery of our own abilities, talents, and resiliency.

To be an adult is to be someone who has experienced a certain level of development- who has had to accept a level of responsibility, self-sufficiency and maturity in dealing with one's thoughts, feelings and emotions. Yet, adults also struggle with remembering the gifts of childhood that are worth embracing as true wisdom- the importance of being present, exploring with new eyes, engaging fully in what is in front of us, viewing each experience and happening with awe and amazement, and finding peace and contentment in a simple act.

Building connection, awareness, self-compassion, resilience, and passion. These are possibilities that one might encounter in an art therapy session. Adults have the unique capability to understand abstraction, symbolism, metaphor, surrealism, sensations, and narrative.

Imagine allowing yourself an hour each week to engage in something completely different, outside your comfort zone and filled with the potential to connect you to your most authentic self. To engage in art is to take an active role in choosing to enhance the parts of ourselves that have been neglected, minimized, invalidated and devalued. You are called to create that painting with lines and shapes and colors, not because it will make you money or so that it will be praised by others, but because that is what your mind, body and heart guided you to make in that moment- a moment that brought you in touch with your intuition. And in that is the beauty and freedom that creativity allows us to experience in each moment.

If you would like to learn more about how Art Therapy can help you work through the issues that bring you to therapy, send us a note via the contact form or directly to To schedule an appointment, click on the Book an Appointment button on the upper right.


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