What is Art Therapy?
Creativity and imagination are fundamental components of growth and change. You must be able to imagine change before you can take steps to make it happen. Art therapy is a profession that employs the use of imagery and image making within a therapeutic relationship to unpack, understand and strategize about personal, interpersonal and systemic issues. Those who have unencumbered access to their imaginations can engage the creative process on their own. Some, however, can use the support of an art therapist, acting as a creative guide to help them on their journey. I describe my practice as working with those with broken imaginations. I have worked with people in settings that include psychiatric hospitals, residential programs, therapeutic schools and in community-based enrichment programs. In all of these settings, I help those that I work with access their creativity in order to bring their imagination back into their lives as a resource.
For more than 30 years I have worked primarily with children and adolescents affected by trauma who are treated in residential, hospital, and school settings. I advocate for these youth, working to raise consciousness about these children. I am a dedicated artist and use my images to find my way in this challenging work.
The following is a more formal definition from the American Art Therapy Association:
“Art therapy is an integrative mental health and human services profession that enriches the lives of individuals, families, and communities through active art-making, creative process, applied psychological theory, and human experience within a psychotherapeutic relationship.
Art therapy, facilitated by a professional art therapist, effectively supports personal and relational treatment goals as well as community concerns. Art therapy is used to improve cognitive and sensorimotor functions, foster self-esteem and self-awareness, cultivate emotional resilience, promote insight, enhance social skills, reduce and resolve conflicts and distress, and advance societal and ecological change.”( https://arttherapy.org/about-art-therapy/)
Art Therapy for Social Justice
My knowledge as art therapist and educator is valuable, but the essential strengths that I bring to my work are my ability to use response art to see things clearly and my imagination to envision change. Joseph (1997) an artist, art therapist, and activist described the artist’s obligation and opportunity; “Art has a sacred function as a vital expressive power that can inspire humanity to expose and confront the dehumanizing, life threatening forces of our time and can set into motion creative, life respecting alternatives” (p. 54).
Joseph, Cliff (1997). Reflections on the Inescapable Political Dimensions of Art and Life. In Farris-Dufrene, Phoebe M. (ed.). Voices of Color: Art and Society in the Americas. Humanities Press. pp. 46–54.
Response Art: The Art of the Art Therapist
This work defines response art as the images of the art therapist made to contain, explore, and express clinical work, and offers a theory supporting its effective use.
Fish, B. J. (2012). Response art: The art of the art therapist. Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, 29 (3), 138-143.
“Harm’s Touch, an original concept, is the negative, cumulative effect of what we witness inside and outside of therapy,” Fish, B. J. (2006). Image-based narrative inquiry of response art in art therapy (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from Dissertations & Theses database. (UMI no. AAT 3228081).
I presented a paper about this work, Harm’s Touch: The Gifts and Costs of What We Witness, at the American Art Therapy Association Conference in Dallas Texas in November 2009.