What is Art Therapy

From the earliest days, humankind has been compelled to create.  Ancient people painted on cave walls to express themselves. Art therapy dates back to prehistoric times when shamans worked in expressive ways to help alleviate suffering. 

More than a century ago, Florence Nightingale observed that objects, especially of a brilliancy of colour, had a palliative effect on her patients.  Impressed by the power of images to induce wellness, she proclaimed that they not only healed the mind, but also had a physical effect on the body and were means of recovery (Malchiodi 2002, p. 21)*. 

Words are often unable to effectively voice our inner worlds. Art Therapy merges visual expression and communication as part of a therapeutic process.  The use of images, metaphor, shapes, symbols, colours and dreams, provides access to our subconscious, allowing for dialogue, self-awareness, understanding, insight, and healing. 

“For some twenty years I have witnessed the healing power of art in people of all ages.  Whether it is an abused child intuitively scribbling the horror of her trauma on paper, a group of breast cancer survivors painting rage and fear, or a father overcome with the death of his child creating a memorial sculpture in his backyard, all have encountered the transformative capacity of art and image.  Each has tapped the ancient wisdom of image and imagination.  All have discovered that art helps us to make meaning in powerful and dramatic ways, conveys our deepest feelings, gives voice to our spirit, and helps us to transcend suffering and touch something beyond ourselves.  They have reconnected with the soul’s palette, the creative source within that heals, makes whole, and helps us deeply understand who we are in a way that no other way of knowing can” (Malchiodi, 2002, p. xi)*.

* Malchiodi, C. A. (2002). The Soul’s Palette.  Boston, USA: Shambhala. 

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