Art Therapy Q&A

by | Jan 23, 2021

Who are you?

Hello! I’m Ellen and I am currently an art therapist and counselor in the Metro Detroit Area. I received my masters degree in counseling and art therapy from George Washington University and have been practicing therapy for about 4 years now. If I had to choose an art medium I love most it would be ceramics because it makes me feel grounded and more at one with myself and the earth.

What is art therapy?

Art Therapy is a type of psychotherapy where the creative process is used to help you express and understand how you think, feel, and act on a deeper level. Art Therapy allows your child to non-verbally explore their thoughts and feelings in a space that feels comfortable and with a trained art therapist. Art therapists are also trained in addressing symptoms of depression and anxiety and provide solution focused art directives for clients to gain positive coping skills when managing these diagnoses. Because the experience of trauma affects our brains and bodies in ways that makes it difficult to talk about, art therapy is also extremely beneficial for those who have experienced trauma, especially children with early childhood trauma, and are ready to dive deeper into their trauma processing.

How Does Art Therapy Benefit Kids and Teens?

Art therapy is an incredible modality for kids and teenagers because of its ability to stay in the metaphor. How many times have you asked your child or teen something and you are only able to get one word answers? Or even just a grunt? The truth is, before our frontal lobes are completely developed, which does not happen until about age 26, it feels safer and easier to speak in symbols, phrases, and images. Art Therapy allows youths to safely explore their feelings through the metaphor while slowly creating the stories in their heads, that eventually with trust, will be able to be told.

What is the difference between an art therapist and an art teacher?

The primary difference between an art therapist and an art teacher is their approach to art making. Art therapists are masters level mental health clinicians trained in providing art materials for self-expression and often work in psychiatric hospitals, private practice, or outpatient clinics where confidentiality is enforced. Art therapists develop treatment planning goals and objectives with their clients, aimed at relieving and reducing psychological symptoms. Additionally, art therapists develop rapport and a clinician-client relationship while focusing on the process of art making.

Art teachers are specifically trained to provide the art making techniques necessary to master the art material and tend to work in a school-based setting where confidentiality is not enforced within the classroom. Art teachers develop lesson plans, and their primary goal is to accomplish a task with a certain art material in order to pass the assignment. Art teachers develop teacher-student relationships and tend to focus on the product of the art rather than the process.

What is the difference between an art therapist and a counselor or social worker?

The main difference between an art therapist and another masters level clinician is that an art therapist is trained in the expressive use of art materials in addition to the incorporation of other psychological modalities and interventions. For example, I have extensive 2 year training in trauma informed techniques making me highly specialized in the combining of art therapy and trauma processing. Additionally I have extensive supervision, background and knowledge of neuropsychology and how our brains and bodies can positively change when working with certain art materials. This means that I can pinpoint the exact art material and directive to utilize in session to decrease anxiety and depression based on the type and amount of chemicals being released in the brain and affecting the body.

Who can benefit from art therapy?

Everyone! No really, everyone can benefit from art therapy. Even within the specialty of art therapy there are clinicians who specialize in working with different populations and address different problems, just like all other therapists.

At Natasha Kendal and Associates I primarily work with girls and teens experiencing anxiety due to family conflicts, perfectionist tendencies, ADHD, or childhood sexual abuse and trauma. I utilize a range of expressive modalities to create a safe atmosphere to allow children to establish control and artistic self-expression, all while building self-esteem, life skills, coping skills, and a secure attachment style.

Do you have to be an artist to do art therapy?

Heck no! I often say to my clients who are not artists themselves that non-artists tend to benefit tremendously from art therapy because they do not have to get over the perfection hump. Artists are trained to see the imperfections of their techniques in their artwork and can become knit picky. The imperfection and experimentation in art is what makes it authentic and at times beautiful. Children especially tend not to view their artwork as bad or ugly, until society begins to tell them it is. Art Therapy is an amazing opportunity in a child’s life to work through accepting their individuality through the making of art and positive talk towards their art.

Do art therapists interpret my child’s artwork?

Many parents are hesitant to share their children’s artwork with others, especially an art therapist. This may be because they fear the vulnerability of their child or family being read like a book. Art therapists are not psychics! We will work with you and your child to interpret you’re the art made in session and ask guiding questions that allow the child to process what you made. Often the art that comes out in session is rooted in deep, unexpressed thoughts and feelings that children are unable to put to words yet. Through processing the artwork, your child will be able to develop a language to describe their experiences and will help both the parewnts and the art therapist understand their needs.

How long is an art therapy session? What is the cost? Does insurance cover it?

Art therapy individual sessions are usually 50 minutes unless otherwise discussed. Currently I charge $150 intake fee for the first session, and a $100 fee per session thereafter. In some state’s insurance does cover the cost of art therapy, however currently in Michigan art therapists are still advocating for protected state licensure (this means anyone, even those without proper training, can say they are an art therapist!) therefore insurance does not cover our sessions.

Why would I choose art therapy over regular talk therapy for my child?

This is a great question and it is a question, you should choose a style and way of working that benefits you, your family, and your child. However, sometimes talk therapy comes to a stuck point where your child feels they have said everything there is to say, or are unable to verbalize it yet. Art therapy is the natural next step to begin the nonverbal process of healing since many of our experiences are non-verbal. Especially for young children, it can be difficult to sit and chat for the entire 50 minute session and often need more physical outlets. Regardless of the type of therapy, we will work together to find a process that honors your unique child and family.


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