Frequently Asked Questions
If I don’t self-identify as an artist, can I do art therapy?
Absolutely. There is a common misconception that art therapy is a form of therapy that is only for artists or for children. This therapeutic modality is suitable for absolutely anyone – from young children to seniors.
First because the term ‘art’ is subjective, each person views art differently – what you consider to be art will likely vary in some way from how another might see a piece of art. Second, the word ‘art’ in art therapy is more in reference to the materials, tools, and process of creating; within art therapy there is zero expectation to create a piece of art that is esthetically pleasing. This is because the process of creating the art object is held as being of greater importance than the final product itself.
How is making art considered therapy?
Many folks have previous experiences, or current challenges that we might not want to verbalize for any number of reasons. But at the same time, there can be an inherent need or desire to be witnessed. It can feel paradoxical. Through using art supplies and art-making tools, feelings, experiences, and emotions, positive, negative, and anywhere in-between, can be expressed, moving these emotions outside of the body – creating a tangible object/sometimes referred to as an art object. This art object can then be witnessed by others without needing to say or explain anything.
So in this case, while nothing is verbally disclosed, the individual acknowledges this piece within themselves, and moves it out of them by creating the art object. Thus, making room for viewing this piece of themselves as not what defines them as a whole, but only one part of who they are.
Being witnessed plays a huge role within art therapy, whether witnessed by the art therapist or within a facilitated art therapy group. There is a level of validation that goes along with being seen by others. This validation often leads to feelings of catharsis, or a breathing out, and feeling lighter.
What types of art materials are used in art therapy?
Do I need to work with a trained art therapist to do art therapy?
To do art-as-therapy, which for many is the act of setting aside time for creating art for enjoyment, you do not need to be working with an art therapist.
If however, you are wanting to work on themes coming up in your life, or you want to do more self-reflective art making, in order to keep yourself safe, you need to be working alongside an art therapist. This can involve having regular sessions where you make art in the presence, either in-person or virtually, of your art therapist or it can involve creating art on your own time, then meeting up in-person or virtually with your art therapist to process your art.
What if I’m in an art therapy group and I see another participant making art that I think is really beautiful?
Because the art object is seen as an extension of the individual who created it, and the process of creating the art object is seen as holding greater power than the final piece of art created, there can be a lot going on within a piece of art that may not be seen by anyone besides the artist. While everyone views art differently, the true meaning of an art object can only come from the artist themselves.
Symbols and colours hold different meaning to each person and within different cultures. Art created by another participant that you look at and see beauty because of the composition and the colours used, could very easily be an expression of grief or anger. If the participant is told what their image reminds someone of, it’s as if they have spoken, and were ignored and talked over.
Do I need to keep the art that I make in an art therapy session or group?
Nope. There will be times where, after a session, you will want to throw your art straight into the garbage or ‘safely’ set it on fire – this could include a bonfire, a burn barrel, or your fireplace. There will be other times however, where you have put a lot of yourself into the art, or are just happy with how it turned out, and you may choose to honour the art and the feelings it holds for you, by framing it, hanging it on the wall or displaying it on a shelf.
Though a word of caution, because of the emotion that is potentially wrapped up in the art, I strongly recommend first displaying any art therapy art only in a place where you and perhaps a partner can view it. If down the road you do not have strong emotional responses to your art you might decide that you would like to have the art moved to a more visible or high-traffic area in your house.
I advise the same level of caution for posting art therapy art on your social media. A huge component of social media is sending and receiving comments on photos and posts. The vast majority of your social media contacts will not have experienced art therapy, and might comment in a way that leaves you feeling hurt. Posting, especially right after your art therapy session, can lead to feelings of vulnerability or even shame – giving your inner critic room to become vocal.
If the art does not hold grief, anger, or any other powerful emotion - maybe you were in a place of playfulness or experimenting with different types of materials when creating your art object, and you really like how it turned out and you want it seen by others – on social media or in your home, my recommendation is to hold off for at least a couple of days, just to be sure that you feel safe if others view it.
Will you tell me what my art means?
I will not. Reason being, is that as the artist, only you will know the true meaning of any art that you create.
My role is to be present, holding space for you and whatever it is that you are working with. I will ask curiosities safely opening avenues to any deeper associations with what you have created.
Do I need to make art when I see an art therapist or join an art therapy group?
You do not. While working with an art therapist you may choose to create art, spend the session talking, you could do some reflective writing or poetry, or even play board games.
Within art therapy, especially when working with an art therapist who is client-led, you the client have the power to choose how you spend your session.
If I want to follow you on social media, is that ok?
Yes, you are more than welcome to follow me on Facebook by looking up Arbutus Art Therapy, or you can follow me on Instagram by looking up
That said, I will not follow you back on instagram, and I will not accept friend requests on facebook.
I want to provide that separation in order for you to be able to post on your own social media without wondering if I have seen something you have posted.
What should I do if I run into you around town?
You are welcome to say hi if you would like, and we could have a brief conversation.
I ask that any topics brought up do not involve pieces you have brought, or will bring to our therapy sessions.
Also of importance, I will not approach you to say hi. This ties into confidentiality and being mindful of your privacy.