Art Therapy vs Art Class

by | Mar 7, 2022 | Art Therapy

What’s the difference?

So why are we even talking about this? Because I get this question a lot. With the rise in adult coloring books and increased talk about self care, there also has come confusion about what art therapy actually is, and what it is not. Both are amazing in their own way but are striving for different outcomes.

Process vs Product

Here is what it comes down to: Art therapy is about the process of making art and art class is about creating a product at the end. In art class, you’re learning a new skill. A teacher instructs you how to do things a certain way to get a result. Fundamentally, to learn how to use materials to create artwork that is pleasurable to look at. In an art therapy session, I also teach how to use materials. But the focus is on how to use those materials with confidence for expression. One goal of my guidance is to encourage you to express yourself in a way that allows you to explore your internal world. I work with you process, explore, identify and work through the stuck parts of life. Art is used in a therapeutic manner to get to the change you are looking for by going through therapy.

What is the difference between art therapy and an art activity?

Art Therapy

  • Art is the medium for psychological change
  • Artwork is not intended to be viewed as a product but as a process and form of communication
  • Artwork does not have to be aesthetically pleasing, finished, or valuable
  • Art therapist acts as a guide, facilitator , and witness to help client understand feelings and needs
  • Art materials are carefully chosen for expression

Art Activity

  • Primary goal is creating a finished art piece
  • Expected to use a set of skills and follow a certain objective
  • The teacher or facilitator may influence art work or give advice
  • artwork produced may be exhibited, evaluated, and assessed
  • Art work is judged aesthetically

Art teachers in many states are now required to get a masters degree while art therapists are a master’s level clinician. In order to be an art therapist you must go through a licensure process (this varies from state to state so check your state for details.)

Regardless is your state has licensure, there is a national board certification. Some art therapists chose to become board certified, some do not (ATR vs ATR-BC.) In order for a person or a program to advertise that they provide art therapy, it must be led by a master’s level art therapist. Otherwise, that are using art as a therapeutic intervention. Which is great, I have even done trainings with non-art therapist clinicians on the use the arts in a therapeutic manner. They just can’t say they are doing art therapy.

Knowing the difference between art therapy and art class

It is important to be educated and know that you are looking for. Often times you will see art therapy offered at wellness centers and other organizations, but they are not, because their sessions are not being led by a licensed art therapist. But this does not mean you can’t use art at home to help take care of yourself.

You don’t have to see an art therapist in order to use creativity and art to take care of yourself. There are so many ways to engage in creativity. Many can provide health benefits, you just have to find the right one for you. Crocheting, knitting, gardening, singing silly songs, cooking, building models, or even painting minis, if you’re into D&D, just to name a few. What it comes down to, or part of it, is being able to engage in the mindfulness, get into the flow of creating something and slow down a little bit. So I encourage you to try something new. What’s great is if you don’t like it, that’s okay, you just move on to the next thing. But be curious. Play. Allow yourself to explore.

Want to learn more about art therapy?

If you are interested in finding out more about art therapy, you can check out the American Art Therapy Association.