The creative arts therapies are based on the idea that creativity enhances the well-being of all people and is a natural aspect of all cultures and human experience. It is an experiential psychotherapeutic approach utilising many creative modalities within a therapeutic relationship with a trained therapist. It is holistic – attending to emotional, cognitive, physical and spiritual well-being – and aligns well with indigenous models of health and well-being.
Practitioners calling themselves art therapists have been trained to work therapeutically using the visual arts, including drawing, painting, and sculpture. Practitioners who utilise creative modalities other than or as well as visual art, work therapeutically with a variety of creative modalities such as with dance/movement or drama and may use titles such as dance/movement therapist, dramatherapist, arts therapist, multi-modal creative arts therapist. Other creative modalities used by therapists may include: music, voice and sound; narrative and story-telling; creative writing and poetry; clay work; and sandplay therapies.
The profession has been well established and recognised in many countries such as the UK, the USA and Europe since the 1940s. Art therapy has been recognised and regulated around the world by organisations such as the British Association of Art Therapists, the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) and the American Art Therapy Association. Creative arts therapists in other parts of the world who work in modalities other than the visual arts are usually recognised and regulated by separate professional bodies, such as the Association for Dance Movement Psychotherapy, or the British Association of Dramatherapy. Increasingly other countries are recognising the value of regulating the various creative arts therapies within one professional body such as ANZACATA.
As an emergent profession in Australia, New Zealand and Asia, the profession gained classification by the Australian and New Zealand Classification of Occupations in 2007. Since then the profession and its diversity has grown exponentially, due in part to the increase in evidence and practice-based research in the field and the greater profile of the benefits of the arts in health.
The creative arts therapies use creative processes to help clients explore and express unconscious material that is often difficult to articulate in words. These methods are innovative, participatory and practical: they provide a supportive space for participants to ‘try on’ and practise new behaviours, and this can be more effective than merely talking about change. Creativity harnesses the imagination and a sense of play. This can help those who have limited choices in their life to use the safe space of the therapeutic environment to learn to tolerate the uncertainty of the unknown, and to become more comfortable to be able to improvise and open up new possibilities in their lives. A key feature of the creative arts therapies is that the processes are often pleasurable. This means that using the arts we are more likely to practice new patterns of more healthy behaviour. The activities practiced in this therapy model can thus provide new hobbies and interests which are vital for ongoing self-support.
Contemporary neurobiological research into trauma suggests that trauma has a powerful physical component and thus the first step in addressing trauma should attend to embodied trauma responses. Because the creative arts therapies are based on body awareness they can effectively address trauma and emotional and physical dysregulation. Creative arts therapies can increase resilience by improving the sense of agency and self-understanding through the ability to express feelings symbolically. This can give new perspectives on oneself and on one’s world view, which is essential in the recovery process.
The creative arts therapies can be practised with individual clients, families and groups. Group work is cost effective and also may counter loneliness and isolation; give opportunities to practise social skills and relationship building in a supportive environment; and can facilitate sense of participation, belonging and community. Creativity can connect us with a sense of meaning and also a means of communicating this to others. This approach can provide soothing and satisfying activities that can counter boredom and lack of engagement and provide the experience of safety, empowerment and the relief of symptoms of anxiety and/or depression through symbolic expression.
Creative arts therapies do not rely on artistic knowledge or ability. They work by accessing imagination and creativity – qualities which all human beings possess – in order to generate new models of living and contribute to the development of a more integrated sense of self.
Evidence-based and practice-based research is well-established in all the creative arts therapies including visual art therapy, dance and movement therapy, dramatherapy and music therapy.
Asking people to reflect on their own creative work is an important part of an art therapy or creative arts therapy process because it is understood that each individual brings their own cultural influences and personal experiences to their creative process. Client and therapist work in a collaborative manner aimed at empowering the person to discover their own sense-making and to reach their fullest potential.
If you would like to locate professionally qualified creative arts therapists in your region for yourself or for someone else, you will find a creative arts therapist directory listing therapists by region, state and country, by speciality, by reasons for therapy, and by approaches, on this website. Please go to our ‘Find a Therapist’ Directory.
Last updated: 22 March 2022