Description of a Session
Art activity within an art therapy session can range from a child scribbling to express nonverbalized feelings to a terminal cancer patient building a 3-dimensional clay image to represent her healing. In art therapy the person making the art object and the process of creating it are of central importance.
During the course of the ongoing sessions the art therapist chooses art materials and directives based on the clients previous imagery and the concerns and issues patients bring to the current session. Though techniques may vary, the consistent underlying foundation of each session is one of encouragement and support.
Course of Treatment
As illustrated earlier art therapy is used in many settings with many different groups of individuals. Art therapy can be an adjunctive therapy that is used intermittently with a client as part of regular weekly psychotherapy sessions. It can also be the primary choice of therapy for an agreed upon length of time.
Length of treatment will vary according to needs of client, time and financial restrictions and the agreed-upon goal of therapy. There is an insurance-weighted emphasis today on brief therapeutic models of counseling that follows a ten- week or less format.
An art therapy session would vary in length depending on the guidelines of the situation.
Individual and group art therapy in institutions can be time-limited from 50 minutes to one and 1/2 half hour per session. With children a session may be shorter.
In a wellness program with a closed group each session that involves making art, a group sharing/discussion and possibly a second expressive modality such a s journaling could last from 1 ½ to 2 ½ hours.
Using art as self-expression in a safe environment is generally not seen as harmful. Because art materials can be evocative and enhance the feeling states or thoughts of the person using them, a trained therapist would not want to offer certain materials to a client who was unstable or very labile. Watercolors, for example, due to their flowing, overlapping, liquid qualities could be inappropriate for an individual who had dissolving personal boundaries, was feeling overwhelmed, and needed structure. If certain difficult personal issues were explored in a session there needs to be recognition that uncomfortable memories and thoughts could later surface that would invite further exploration. This would be a similar concern after a verbal therapy session.
Some art products can be harmful to ingest, breathe or absorb through the skin. An art therapist working with children in grade six or lower or with adults who cannot read and understand safety labels would use only non-toxic art materials. The ACMI or Art & Creative Materials Institute, Inc. is a nonprofit association of manufacturers of art, craft and other creative materials that was formed to oversee a quality and performance certification program that includes proper testing and labeling of art materials. This organization promotes safety in over 60,000 art and craft materials used by both children and adults. The ACMI AP (approved product) seal identifies art materials that are certified in a toxicological evaluation by a medical expert to contain no materials in sufficient quantities to be toxic to humans or to cause acute or chronic health problems. Other products labeled CP (Certified Product), and HL (Health Label) are also non-toxic and have been certified by ACMI to be labeled in accordance with the chronic hazard labeling standard, ASTM D 4236.
There are other seals in current use that designate products that follow the guidelines of the U.S. Labeling of Hazardous Art Materials Act (LHAMA). Aware adults in proper settings with proper hand or/and face coverings can use such art materials.
Other modalities that Work Well with Art Therapy
Art therapy used in conjunction with movement, dance, or music therapy can be very effective. As an expressive therapy it can blend well with other modalities that seek to promote and serve the mind-body connection. The emotive power of imagery can be experienced in a musical note, a painting or a physical gesture.
Finding a Practitioner
The following national organizations provide practitioner locators on their sites. These include:
American Art Therapy Association
The British Association of Art Therapists (BAAT)