The Question. It’s inevitable. “So, what do you do?” Depending on the circumstances, I may answer that I am an artist, a teacher or an art therapist. While I am extremely proud of being an art therapist, I have sometimes been a little hesitant to share this. My fear (and this is well-founded) is that the person will start to tell me about their personal problems. But let’s assume that this person is genuinely interested in what art therapy is all about. How can I explain my life work in 3 minutes?
While I hesitate to define art therapy against anything, I will. Let me tell you what art therapy is not. It is not reading inkblots. It is not interpreting drawings. It is not about coloring and doing “cut and paste.” Let me tell you what art therapy is. It is a profession practiced by highly trained individuals with graduate degrees and clinical licenses. Art therapists are both fine artists and trained mental health professionals. Art therapy draws (pun somewhat intended) on strengths, on the the drive to create and on the human need for community. Art therapy uses the creative process to heal. Whether it is a Sudanese child drawing an image of the attacks on their village, or a victim of domestic violence making a collage about her traumatic home life, or a person with an eating disorder drawing a self-portrait reflecting their body image, art therapy has the power to capture their experiences and communicate it to another. Another. A trained other who has the clinical experience to hold the emotion being expressed and help the person process it and heal from their pain.
“So, what do you do?” I proudly answer “I am an art therapist.”