Art Therapy:
Understanding Yourself Beyond Words

24 June 2022
A picture of a female person at the seaside smiling
By Maxi Schoelzel
As the emotional competence lady of Samaṇa, Maxi implements small changes in her everyday life, one step at a time. Rather than scheming, she likes to instead try and fail. She's been using art therapeutic methods for years in her individual and group work. Having begun doing breathwork intensely is another change in her life. For Samaṇa she translates her art therapeutic experience into words and practice.

Do you recall the experience of being a child and just sitting down with a few pencils or crayons and a sheet of blank paper in front of you?

Some enjoyed it more than others, but chances are you remember feeling free while drawing. You probably had the chance to let your feelings out, making the most out of the opportunity to simply express yourself on that paper. It was nice, huh? And yet most of us drop the habit of letting ourselves loose once we grow up and become busy with work, studies, relationships, and life in general.

Sure, sitting down to let your feelings out through art can seem like a waste of time. But what if it was not only a good use of your time but also good for your wellbeing? Well, turns out that is precisely what art therapy taps into.
A picture of a sculpture of a head made out of clay
Art therapy sessions are a safe space to make decisions and better understand who you are.

So, what is art therapy?

The thought of going to therapy can be daunting, especially for those of us who feel too awkward to say what’s troubling us out loud or may not find the words to explain it. This is not an issue with art therapy, though, as it enables nonverbal expression through art instead of only talking with the therapist. This type of psychotherapy can help work on personal topics or conflicts in a way that feels more comfortable and dynamic for many people.

What makes art therapy different from just doodling by yourself or taking an art class — which may very well be relaxing and fun but not therapeutic — is that it is given by experts in Art therapy who studied on how to guide you in the process. This ensures you experiment purposefully and get the mental health benefits of therapy.

What kind of activities do you do in art therapy?

In a typical session, you choose the materials (paper, canvas, pencils, paint, crayons, or even clay and chalk) and the therapist holds the space for you and guides you if needed. This means that while you create, they may intervene verbally to support you in letting go and opening up. Afterwards, you’re invited to reflect about your work and the process to explore what was difficult or easy, what did you aim to achieve, and what do you see in the final piece. In every action and creative decision you take, there is an underlying topic to be discovered… Art therapy is as much about the art itself but rather about you, and every finding is important.

Throughout several sessions (how many will depend on you), the therapist gets to know you well in order to build a relationship. With this knowledge, they might tweak the process as you go along, suggest specific topics to work on, and even recommend different materials to experiment with; there is not necessarily a rigid activities structure that needs to be followed for every session.

Do you need to be creative to take art therapy?

This kind of therapy is grounded in the belief that art is a form of expression, so it’s not a test of creative or technical skill at all: it doesn’t matter if your work ends up hung up at the Louvre or your refrigerator!

The therapist is there to help you get any feelings off your chest, not to judge the quality of the results. Art therapy sessions are a safe space to make decisions and better understand who you are; think of it as a sort of playground where you are encouraged to trust yourself, there are no rights or wrongs. This means you can kick any perfectionism to the curb — kind of how you may have done as a child when there would have been no pressure to be a “good artist”.

Can art therapy help you to live a life well-lived?

In a nutshell, yes! Art therapy can help you understand yourself better. Both the act of creation and the final outcome serve as trailheads into the inner world and a transformation thereof. In this process, creative resources can be rediscovered, self-healing powers can be mobilized, and change can be stimulated. It is a great option even if you have not considered therapy but are looking for a way to connect with your emotions, become more aware of preconscious and unconscious content, and get better at relaxing and unwinding.

Not only that, but it can also help you deal with:
  • anxiety
  • stress
  • depression
  • grief
  • trauma
  • addiction

Is there online art therapy?

Although it is possible to participate in art therapy in person, there is also the option to do it online. These days you don’t even have to leave the comfort of your home to get the help you need — online art therapy is more accessible than ever before.

Depending on your preference, there are options for one-to-one sessions or even Art therapy workshops, where you come together with like-minded individuals while a therapist guides you all through the process. This can help you get past any anxieties about one-to-one sessions and connect you to a supportive community. The choice, of course, is entirely up to you.

Remember that there is no one-size-fits-all aid to mental health: each individual is different and our struggles are also varied, which can make it a bit tricky to find the right approach. So, it is a good idea to keep an open mind and try a couple different options until finding the one that feels right for you. Also, keep in mind that in some cases, Art therapy could be combined with other types of therapy in order to fit your particular needs, so you don’t necessarily have to commit exclusively to this type of psychotherapy.

If you’re ready to explore your thoughts and feelings through art, why not start your quest with Samaṇa or sign up for the latest news via our newsletter?
The information in this article is provided as an information resource only and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes. Please consult a professional for guidance about a specific condition.