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Art is Medicine

The Elements of a Session


An individual art therapy session involves creative self-expression- using varied art materials and processes- in the presence of an art therapist. 


Individual Client/Artist + Art Materials + Artmaking Process + Art Therapist = Art Therapy


One does not need to consider themselves an artist to be able to participate in creative self-expression. Most importantly, it is one’s desire to create as a way to be seen, known, understood- not one’s perceived art talent or skill-that supports one’s healing.  Creativity lives in each of us and art therapy does not require specific methods or techniques to be expressive.  Art therapy calls on us to be courageous enough to bring to life what exists within.


Before a Session


Prior to an art therapy session, one might experience a range of emotions and thoughts.  Emotions might include curiosity, nervousness, shame, excitement, apprehension, wonder, etc.  Thoughts might focus on one’s perceived abilities or inabilities, the types of art materials that will be used, or the structure of the session in terms of how much time is allotted for art making and if there will be a directive or theme.  Allow these thoughts and emotions to ebb and flow, and know that the art therapist will be with you to support your needs and be present with you throughout the process.


During the Session


In an art therapy session, the client and art therapist will discuss intentions for the session and determine types of materials to use, how to use them and whether the art making process will be structured or unstructured- meaning whether or not to focus on a specific art task, theme, art assessment or directive.


Based on the individual needs of each client, the art therapy session might emphasize the art making process- experimenting, learning, reacting to and experiencing new methods, such as paint mixing, drawing, coloring, molding, collaging, etc.- as essential to one’s healing. 


Sessions might also focus attention on what has been created, the art form, such as the physical drawing, painting, sculpture, story, poem, song, etc, in order to achieve deeper awareness and understanding of one’s current emotions, thoughts, and behaviors.  


To focus on the artmaking process in a session, one would be encouraged to experiment and play with a variety of materials- to focus on the sensations and feelings that are evoked from engaging in a process and with a material that may be familiar or unfamiliar to you.  

These are some questions that one might consider helpful in focusing in on the artmaking process:


How do I feel when I use this art material? (ie: graphite pencil, watercolor paint, chalk pastel, etc.)

What thoughts came to mind at the beginning of the session, during the artmaking process and after?

What physical sensations or reactions did I experience while working with these materials?


To focus on the created art form within the session, one would be encouraged to engage with the creation using the five senses to describe and observe what they have in front of them.  


What colors can you observe in the art form?

What textures?

What shapes?

How would you describe the line quality?

Are there any patterns or repetitions in lines/shapes/images?

Does the image have any strong associations or connections?

What do the images evoke (feelings, thoughts, memories)?


After the Session


You might be encouraged to journal in response to what was created during a session in order to develop a deeper understanding of the work.  You may have questions for your artwork that may require further exploration in a follow-up session.  It is common within the creative art process for emotions and memories to be evoked and it is important to tend to your emotional needs in between sessions- consider an art journal for both writing and sketching as a way to contain images and thoughts, while supporting further introspection and self-awareness.

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