Collective Arts – Art Therapy is not Art Class

Right now art therapists the world over are probably celebrating the Duchess of Cambridge’s decision to support The Art Room as one of her charitable causes. It is an impressive looking organization, conducts research and appears to have a strong management committee, but with one small exception  – there are no art therapists on staff.

As a profession art therapy struggles. It is experiential, so it can be difficult to explain exactly how it works; research is still in the early stages and is typically qualitative rather than quantitative. Many art therapists come from a wide variety of approaches (phenomenological, humanistic, psychodynamic, positive psychology the list goes on), some focus on product some on process and there are hundreds of ways of making art. But art therapy works…

To practice as an Art Therapist, in fact to call oneself an Art Therapist requires graduate level study at an HPC (Health Professions Council) recognized institution – in the UK there are currently 9. Like it or not, having a lovely combination of counselling diplomas and art classes does not make you an Art Therapist any more than having a stethoscope and a white coat makes you a doctor.

Art, although prevalent in our society, is a powerful communication tool that is capable of accessing a myriad of unconscious material. It functions symbolically, metaphorically and very often what is not included in the image is as important as what is – all subtle aspects of the healing and communication process that art therapists are trained (over years) to see.

So to the Duchess of Cambridge I say thank you, your visit to the art therapy suite at Montreal’s Sainte-Justine University Hospital this past summer must have had a very powerful impact. However, it is essential that the Art Room, which I also applaud, hires an HPC registered Art Therapist because this profession needs this public voice and it needs to be represented appropriately.


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