Holistic Healing: Exploring Who You Are through Art
By Lisa Nelson, Senior Clinician

At Mountainside, we believe in helping our clients heal mind, body, spirit. To that end, we combine traditional therapies with evidence-based, holistic treatments. In this new “Holistic Healing” column, we will highlight the many effective alternative modalities we use to care for our clients.

Therapy, so many different theories and techniques – but the one that is probably the most misunderstood and asked about is art therapy.

So let’s start with: What is it?

Art therapy is a form of psychotherapy involving the encouragement of free self-expression through painting, drawing, or modeling, used as a remedial activity or an aid to diagnosis.

In simpler terms, it the use of art to gain insight into emotions, thoughts, and feelings.  It is a way to visually capture your struggles without necessarily using words.  It is the perfect outlet for when words are too difficult to say out loud.

And how does it work?

Your art therapist guides you through the process, and may ask questions related to what you drew to allow for deeper exploration/discussion. It can be scary, but also freeing – and always safe.

What are the benefits?

Benefits vary greatly depending on the individual, but its overall benefits include improving mental, emotional, and in some cases, even physical health.


Art therapy has been around since the 1940s, yet there are still many misconceptions about it. So, let’s clear up some myths!

Myth 1:  You need to be an artist.

You do not need to have any artistic ability whatsoever. Art therapy is not an art class. It is not about learning painting techniques or turning you into the next Picasso. It is about self-expression, exploring your emotions, and improving self-esteem. Art therapy can be a very rewarding experience, whether you are a skilled artist or not.

Myth 2: Art therapy is for kids.

Sure, kids can benefit from art therapy, but so can you. Art therapy does not care about your age, sex, or race. We could all use better ways to express ourselves. We could all learn more about our emotions and how to manage them. We would all like to experience less stress.  Do not let pretty colors and fun materials fool you: art therapy is for everyone.

Myth 3: Art therapists are not “real therapists.”

You need a master’s degree and special certification to be an art therapist, so art therapists are most certainly “real therapists.”

Myth 4:  You’re going to see my artwork and know what I’m thinking.

Art can be brutally honest, and serve as a window into an individual, but no one can read your mind, even an art therapist. An art therapist never assumes anything at face value about what you drew. This is why we ask questions like, “Why did you chose that color?” or “How does this image tie to that image?”

On the other hand, while we cannot read your mind, we do have art assessments that we can use to aid in diagnosing. Art therapy is about deep exploration, and as art therapists, we serve as facilitators who can help you see things differently or discover things about yourself. But ultimately, we cannot tell you what you are thinking or how you feel – only you can do that.

Hopefully, this is a start to understanding what art therapy is and isn’t. If you are interested in exploring art therapy on your own, a basic book I use is: The Art of Recovery by Whitney Nobis. It is a safe, self-exploration book with exercises you can do on your own. But please be advised, if you are looking to go deeper, locate an art therapist that has their master’s degree or is certified. You can locate one in your area through the following site: www.arttherapy.org