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Art Therapy: Choosing Materials in an Art Therapy Session

Updated: Jul 20, 2022

by Lauren Fallat, MA LPC ATR-BC

Art Therapy: Choosing Materials in an Art Therapy Session

The materials provided in an art therapy session serve as the means through which our internal experiences- thoughts and perceptions, feelings and sensations, desires and fears- can be expressed. For this blog post, the intention is to provide individuals who are new to art therapy or interested in its components an overview of how the materials become a significant catalyst for eliciting and supporting emotional expression- by balancing feelings of security with feelings of risk-taking.

So what art materials are used in art therapy? Depending on an individual’s experience and relationship with art, there can be a multitude of answers. Generally, one might engage in drawing, painting, sculpting, collaging or mixed media processes. Each of these processes utilize different materials that have their own properties and boundaries- some are more rigid or resistive and some are more fluid, some are more textured and some are more smooth.

Since there can be a lot to discuss within each of these different processes and their materials, future blog posts will be dedicated to discussing different types of specific materials and how they interact to create an experience within the art therapy process.

For now let’s consider these important questions to ask ourselves as we work together to form a relationship with the art materials in a session:

  • What are my intentions for today’s session? Do I want to engage in a more structured directive with a specific purpose, work with a specific theme, engage in mindfulness by creating a drawing/painting/sculpture from observation (what I see in front of me), and/or create spontaneously and go with the flow through free association and instinct?

  • Do I want this drawing/painting/sculpture to look contained and well-defined or a bit more flowy and blurred?

  • Do I want to represent a specific image or symbol?

  • Do I want to work specifically with a type of line (squiggly, straight, curved, jagged, sharp, continuous, short, long, repeated, swirling)?

  • Do I want to focus on creating a pattern in my art using repeated lines, shapes, strokes, carvings, overlapping, ripping/tearing or textures?

  • Do I want this creation to be more abstract and less about a specific image/idea based in reality?

  • Do I want to create using a variety of mixed-media materials?

  • Do I want to relax and play with the materials and see how it feels?

  • Do I want to try a material that scares me or that may seem intimidating?

  • Do I want to work with a material that I feel comfortable and safe with?

  • Do I want to work on containment or do I want to work on letting go?

While these questions are not always directly considered, you might find it worthwhile to reflect on one or more of these questions prior to entering into a session if you are unsure of how you would like to proceed in moving forward. Your therapist will also be able to guide you through the art making process, providing recommendations depending on your specific needs. And please be aware that at times we may gravitate towards a material for no reason more than curiosity or impulse- wow I really want to try that or ohhh what does this do?

There is beauty in the discovery of the materials and their properties and the transformations that they take on when used separately and together. Please look for future blog posts where we will explore these different materials in more depth, which will help us understand the possibilities for our creative expression


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