Snippets of Art Therapy – Student Reflection

Snippets of Art Therapy – written by Kirstie Nel

An ongoing exploration of what it is to study Art Therapy

Studying Art Therapy sounds creative, exotic and foreign at the same time to many that do not know the field – and to many art therapy students and professionals themselves. An elevator definition (a quick and vague definition for social quick exchanges) is that art therapy is a form of psychotherapy, which makes use of art.  A short, sweet and slightly superficial explanation similar to the one I used during orientation week.

In one way I am studying Art Therapy so that I can understand it better, thus how am I suppose to give a proper explanation for something I feel I only understand a small taste of.  Coming from a fine arts background myself, most artists (visual, musical, theatrical or crafts) I believe know the feeling of losing track of time when working on their art. This brings me to the question, what makes Art Therapy different from practicing artistic pursuits on your own time?

Dawn Garisch, a medical doctor from South Africa, whom has a firm belief that art can enhance physical and emotional well-being, writes in her book Eloquent Body:

The language of the body manifests as symptoms; the language of the unconscious emerges as symbols. The working of the psyche are deep currents, invisible but for the ways in which they form and inform the visible surface. Like geologists, we have to extrapolate from the surface disturbances and characteristics in order to determine the subterranean dynamics.

Dawn Garisch, might not be an art therapist, but I find her words combining many aspects of what Art Therapy speaks of and involves. Inner-worlds are able to reveal themselves in art as art allows for symbols to take shape physically in the real world. The unconscious becomes physical on paper and the art therapist in combination with the client excavate roots of themselves, to understand the here-and-now and whom they find themselves to be currently.

Basically, what I want to say is that Art Therapy seems easy to understand, such as the elevator definition, but it is so much more complex than that mere statement. To encompass Art Therapy in a sentence or two is like listening to a description of an artwork which you cannot see.  You need to view it, experience it, to fully comprehend its meaning.

Art Therapy Kristie Nel



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