15 Art Therapy Activities, Exercises & Ideas for Children and Adults

art therapyWhen was the last time you picked up a paintbrush or a colored pencil?

Maybe it’s been a while, but what about the last time you doodled on your notebook during a meeting?

For many of us, when we think of art, we tend to think it’s not for us. Perhaps you think you aren’t very creative, but there’s more to it than merely being ‘good at drawing.’

Allowing our brains the freedom for free expression, even by doodling, can have a wonderful impact on how we process, retain, and share information.

It’s no surprise that the therapy community has taken note of this, and in more recent years, there’s been a rise in the number of practitioners offering a very distinct form of therapy: art therapy.

Before you read on, we thought you might like to download our three Positive Psychology Exercises for free. These science-based exercises explore fundamental aspects of positive psychology, including strengths, values, and self-compassion, and will give you the tools to enhance the wellbeing of your clients, students, or employees.

You can download the free PDF here.

What Is Art Therapy?

Art therapy is a blended field of therapeutic practice that combines art and psychology, utilizing the creative process, artistic techniques, and external artwork to support individuals to develop self-awareness, explore emotions, and address unresolved conflict or trauma.

Art therapy has also been used to help individuals, particularly young children, develop social skills and raise self-confidence. It’s a fantastic addition to positive psychology, as at its core, it seeks to help individuals overcome emotional or psychological challenges to achieve a greater sense of personal wellbeing.

A broader definition of art therapy has been established by the American Art Therapy Association (2013):

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.

To participate in art therapy, you do not need any prior experience with art or a ‘natural’ artistic ability. The process itself is one of exploration with no ‘wrongs’ and no ‘rights.’ The practice allows each individual to use creative activities in ways that support them best without judgment.Applications of Art Therapy

 

What Art Therapy Is Not

Most recently, there has been a rise in what is often referred to as mindfulness coloring. Some people see this as a part of art therapy, but it is very distinct from accredited art therapy practice.

There are many do-it-yourself coloring apps and coloring books for adults and children that promote coloring as a form of self-care or mindfulness. While these activities can certainly be helpful for many, unless a licensed art therapist has designed them, they cannot be considered art therapy.

One of the core foundations of art therapy is how it aligns the individual creative process or activity with other forms of treatment (usually talk therapy) to help people better understand their thoughts, emotions, and experiences.Definition of Art Therapy

 

A Brief History of Art Therapy

history of art therapyFor centuries, art and drawing have been used all over the world as tools for communication, storytelling, self-expression, and social interaction.

As far back as there have been humans, there has been art. Just think of the original cave drawings.

Art as a therapy practice was only accepted more recently. The term ‘Art Therapy’ was coined in 1942 by Adrian Hill, a British artist, who attributed painting and drawing to his recovery from tuberculosis. However, the benefits of the practice of art for emotional health go back further than this.

In 1915, Margaret Naumburg, often referred to as the Mother of Art Therapy, established the Walden School in New York. Naumburg believed that children should be allowed creative freedom and that allowing them to pursue subjects that interested them would enable healthy development.

Naumburg wrote several influential books on the topic of art therapy, believing that when creative pursuits are seen as another form of expression, they can be used in conjunction with traditional communication to unearth repressed and unconscious memories and emotions.

Her work led others to begin exploring the field, building its reputation within the psychological community, including:

  • Florence Cane, an art educator who began to use teaching methods that encouraged artistic expression and emotional creativity.

  • Edith Kramer, who developed a more process-oriented art therapy approach based on psychotherapy ideas of the ego and that promoted the development of identity.

  • Elnor Ulman established the first journal in the United States dedicated to art therapy, alongside one of the first training programs for psychologists wishing to train in art therapy.

 

5 Fun Art Therapy Ideas and Activities for Children and Teens (+PDFs)

art therapy benefitsArt as a means for healing and communication is highly relevant for children and teens.

Young children often rely on their limited language skills to express complex thoughts and emotions. That barrier can be breached with methods of expression they understand a little better, like drawing and coloring.

Teens can also benefit from a pressure-free, consequence-free medium for their thoughts and feelings.

Below are five possible art therapy activities and exercises for children of all ages.

 

1. Art therapy postcard activity

Most people would probably agree that it’s easier to express or recognize hurts and regrets when there’s the distance between yourself and the problem. This is why the postcard activity can be a good self-discovery exercise that helps answer the question, “What would I say to someone if I didn’t have to do it face-to-face?

This activity can be used in one-to-one or group therapy sessions. Here’s how to conduct the activity:

  1. Print out the postcard by following the link above or simply create a postcard-style template to use. One side can be completely blank for drawing, and one side can be laid out with some lines for writing.

  2. Ask participants to reflect on a situation or person they feel or felt frustrated, angry, upset, or sad about. Spend a moment simply thinking about and reflecting on what happened, how it felt, and what they would like to let the person know about how the experience made them feel.

  3. On the blank side of the postcard, ask participants to draw or create a visual representation of how they felt or still feel about the experience. Explain that there is total freedom with this, and they can create anything they like with any materials.

  4. On the lined side of the postcard, participants can write what they would like to say if they could.

  5. Use what they draw and write to explore their emotions further and discuss how they might begin to work toward a healing resolution.

 

2. Words to live by collage

art therapy ideas for teensTeens can be vulnerable to harsh, judgmental environments where they don’t feel they can be themselves.

They may suppress their real character to avoid censure from their peers; this is why it’s essential for teens to identify their core values and identify who they think they are.

It’s crucial when working with teens to create coping strategies that they can come back over to time and let them know that their ideas, feelings, and values will change with experience.

The Words to Live By activity helps teens to visualize their core values through creative collage. Here’s how to teach this activity:

You will need:

  • Old magazines, newspapers, picture books, and scrap paper
  • Markers and colored pencils
  • Scissors and glue
  • Cardboard or thick paper for the base of the collage
  • This activity can be carried out with a group or one-to-one

Process:

  1. Asking participants to take a moment to reflect on their core values. For younger teens, you may want to discuss what we mean by values by asking them what some of the things they feel strongly about are. What do they feel good about when they practice certain behaviors or see others behave?

  2. Once participants have a good idea of their values, invite them to take a mindful minute. Start by asking them to close their eyes and turn their focus to their breath. Now ask them to let the words associated with their values freely flow into their thoughts. What are these words? What are the related images, colors, and shapes that feel connected to these words?

  3. Once participants feel ready, invite them to begin selecting images, words, phrases, or colors from the magazines and newspapers. They will use these to compile a collage that they feel reflects their words to live by. This can be image based or entirely abstract; it’s all about how their words make them feel.

  4. If they feel comfortable, save some time at the end of the session for them to present their collages and share with the group what they have created and what it means to them.

 

3. Softness project

Humans are all tactile creatures, but children especially are touchers, explorers, and curious feelers. Utilizing touch is a way for them to learn about the world and to find comfort.

The activity below is a form of art therapy that focuses on using comforting textures and allowing for a manageable exploration of uncomfortable emotions. It is a particularly useful activity with younger children.

This activity can be carried out with a group or one-to-one.

Here’s how to conduct the activity:

You will need:

  • Various pieces of different fabric, textured materials, and soft textiles
  • Cardboard or thick paper for the base
  • Scissors and glue

Process:

  1. Start the session by asking participants about their sense of touch. Invite them to share their ideas around things that feel good, things that don’t feel right, and why. What are some of the things they enjoy touching? What materials do they find comforting and nurturing?

  2. Explain that touch is an important sensory experience, and we can use it to create things that bring us comfort and a sense of calm.

  3. Allow participants to explore the box of different materials and take their time selecting pieces they enjoy.

  4. Next, they can create a soft collage, sticking, sewing, or tying the pieces of fabric together on the cardboard or thick paper base. Encourage them to think carefully when selecting the materials and build the collage up as much as they like, creating a pillow-like sculpture.

  5. If using this activity with an older group, you could give more direct instructions such as using the materials to depict an event that is painful for them, a person with whom they have painful conflict, or a part of themselves they’re unhappy with.

With this project, participants are softened by the act of collage, rendering painful things into pleasant things.

In a group with young children, we recommend using materials like glue sticks and having pre-cut pieces of material ready.

 

4. Build a safe place

This is an activity that’s adaptable for all age groups, but may be a sensitive project for kids and young adults who often have little control of their environments and struggle to ever feel safe.

This project may help a child or teen reflect on ways to find a safe space or may simply help them feel like they have some control over their environment. It can be conducted one-to-one or in small groups.

Here’s how to carry out the activity.

You will need:

  • Safe building materials such as cardboard boxes of different shapes and sizes, popsicle sticks, colored cardboard, pipe-cleaners, markers or colored pencils, glitter, and sequins
  • Scissors and glue

You can tailor the materials you use depending on the age group you are working with. The idea is to provide them with as much as possible so they can get creative.

Process:

  1. Ask participants to think about a space that makes them feel safe. Then ask them to reflect on what it is about this particular space that makes them feel that way. Is it bright and sunny or dark and calming? How does it smell? What can they see, hear, and touch when they are in their safe space? If they don’t have one or can’t think of one, ask them similar questions but geared toward what they think would make them feel safe.

  2. Next, ask participants to take a mindful minute. Have them close their eyes and focus on their breathing. Then bring to mind their safe space, real or imagined, and visualize what this looks like. How does it feel to be in their safe space? What emotions can they sense?

  3. When participants are comfortable, ask them to explore the various materials and to recreate their safe space. This could be in any format they like, whether a flat drawing or a sculpture; give them as much creative freedom as possible.

  4. When they have finished and if they feel comfortable, ask them to share their creations with the group, describing the different parts of their safe space. These can be used to create an ongoing dialogue about safe environments and how they might create something like this in real life.

 

5. Color your feelings

This set of three worksheets includes exercises for children to express their emotions or define the things they care about. It’s a very quick and easy exercise that can help participants create helpful visual representations of the things they value.

The worksheets include an empty outline of a heart.

Here’s how to use it.

You will need:

  • The printed worksheets
  • Markers and colored pencils
  • Glitter, sequins, and glue (if desired)

Process:

  1. Ask participants to take a moment to reflect on the things that make their heart happy. What things make them feel good? What words would they use to describe these things? What images and colors come to mind when they think about these things?

  2. Provide participants with the worksheets and ask them to fill the heart with what they have just been thinking and talking about. They can create these in any way they like, focusing on one thing or filling the heart with as many things as they want.

  3. Use what they create as a discussion point to help them better understand the things that make their heart happy. How often do these things happen for them? How can they and you work together to create more of these happy moments?

 

5 Art Therapy Exercises and Techniques for Adults

art therapy for adultsJust because adults have more experience with language than children doesn’t necessarily mean they are any better at understanding their own emotions and telling others what they’re experiencing.

Often, in dealing with adult problems, it’s even harder to articulate what hurts and why.

Distress from pent-up emotions and complex experiences that need articulation is an especially common experience for people in caring professions.

Art therapy is a promising therapy for end-of-life caretakers, helping them feel competent, develop emotionally focused coping skills, and increase emotional awareness – an essential skill to prevent burnout (Potash, Chan, Ho, Wang, & Cheng, 2015).

Caring professionals especially need the defense against burnout that art therapy can provide, but any adult is susceptible to burnout and could use the coping skills taught through art therapy.

Below are five activities for adults that can provide an opportunity to help them better understand themselves. Some of them are for use with clients addressing a specific area, and others are more generally therapeutic.

While these exercises might not be facilitated by a professional art therapist, many of them were developed and used by art therapists and can still make a difference for the individual seeking release.

 

1. Unmasked – Expressive Art Therapy Directive

This activity was created for people who struggle with eating disorders or have body image problems. People with these conditions often create masks to hide behind that can operate as distractions from other issues, keep others from seeing their suffering, or keep them from seeing their own dysfunction.

This activity involves creating masks that help explore the participants’ symbolic masks. Creating masks can be done individually or in a group setting.

The activity can help participants discover suppressed parts of themselves, uncover new coping strategies that aren’t food or body related, and confront a fear of what would happen if the body- and food-focused mask was removed (Schwartz, 2017).

Here’s how to carry out the activity.

You will need:

Depending on your resources, you could help participants to make plaster masks from scratch or purchase some pre-made blank masks.

If making plaster masks from scratch, keep in mind that there is a drying time between layers of plaster, so this activity would need to be carried out throughout several sessions. If you are seeking to deliver a one-off workshop activity, the pre-made masks might work best. Other materials to use could include:

  • Markers
  • Feathers, pipe cleaners, pieces of different fabric and materials
  • Glitter and sequins
  • Scissors and glue

Process:

  1. Explain to participants the concept of masks and how each of us might have unconscious masks that we often hide behind. Encourage participants to reflect on their own experiences of this. When do they think they hide behind a mask? What triggers their hiding? What would that mask look like if it were real?

  2. Next, ask participants to engage in a mindful minute. Have them close their eyes and focus on their breathing. Encourage them to allow thoughts of their mask to enter their mind. Ask them to think about what their ‘best face’ mask might look like, the one they want people to see rather than the one they hide behind to cover up their food or body-related behaviors. What would that mask look like?

  3. Provide them with the masks and materials. Encourage them to create their ‘best face’ mask.

  4. When their masks are complete, they could use them to further role-play their ideas about themselves and issues represented by the different masks they wear.

 

2. The lighthouse

For those who feel lost, overwhelmed, or isolated, expressing those feelings and visualizing hope can be a therapeutic and beautiful way to identify needs, feel hope for the future, and realize where they are on a specific journey.

The activity involves imagining being lost at sea and visualizing the ideal lighthouse that would provide the right kind of guidance. This is a great activity for both children and adults, but an older group or individual might better appreciate the depth and symbolism of the project.

Here are the instructions.

You will need:

  • Plain or colored paper
  • Markers and colored pencils

Process:

  1. Start with a basic guided meditation. Ask participants to sit comfortably, close their eyes, and turn their focus to their breathing. Allow a minute or two for participants to clear their minds and become settled.

  2. As participants continue to meditate and relax, explain that it is common for all of us at points in our life to feel lost, isolated, or overwhelmed. It can be a scary time, and we often think there is no way out, but there is usually always a light to help guide us back to safety.

  3. Next, start to tell participants a story. They have been out on a boat on a clear day, but as the day progressed, the weather has taken a turn for the worse. The sky has darkened, the sea is black and choppy. It is cold, and water is flowing into the boat. They have lost their way and are unsure of how they will find their way back again. But, in the distance, they see a lighthouse showing them the way to safety. They must head toward the lighthouse.

  4. Bring participants out of their meditation and provide them with the materials. Instruct them to draw, color, or paint a lighthouse as a source of guidance. Encourage them to depict themselves in relation to the lighthouse somewhere in the image and to add words that represent sources of guidance in their life.

 

3. The self-care box

Affirmation and inspiration are the keys to the self-care box. It can be comforting to have something small, tangible, and beautiful in times of trouble. This is a simple activity that can have impactful results in times of need.

The box can be used as a resource, and its ongoing creation can be therapeutic for the participant.

Here’s how to make a self-care box.

You will need:

You can ask participants to make their own box out of cardboard, or you can find small, plain, and inexpensive wooden boxes from many arts and crafts stores. Whichever you choose, you will also need:

  • Markers and colored pencils
  • Glitter, sequins, pieces of materials like lace, etc.
  • Old magazines, newspapers, or picture books
  • Scissors and glue

Process:

  1. Ask participants to reflect on their ideas of self-care. What does it mean to them? What are some of the things, behaviors, people, or activities that help them feel good about themselves and that feel like self-care?

  2. Encourage them to think about the emotions, feelings, words, images, and colors that these ideas for self-care evoke within them.

  3. Next, provide them with the boxes and materials. Tell them that these self-care boxes will be used to store small trinkets, souvenirs, and quotes that align with their ideas of self-care.

  4. Participants can then decorate their boxes to best align with their ideas of self-care. Encourage them to decorate or line the box with positive affirmations. These can be self-generated, generated by group members, or found online. These can also be simply folded and put into the box to be read when needed.

  5. Use the box for items that provide comfort, like worry stones, pictures of friends or family, clips of quotes or poetry, pressed flowers, or treasured jewelry or mementos. They might even leave some movie or massage gift cards in the box that can be used when they feel drained and in need of self-care.

You can share these quotes with them for inspiration:

 

4. The poem collage

Self-criticism can make the act of creation challenging, and finding the words to express your feelings can often be difficult because you’re self-conscious of how inadequate the expressions can feel.

By creating a poem from a pool of words collected from sources like magazines, newspapers, and old books, you can create an un-self-conscious poem that molds pre-existing words to your feelings.

Here’s how to make a poem collage. This activity can be carried out with a group or one-to-one

You will need:

  • Old magazines, newspapers, picture books, and scrap paper
  • Markers and colored pencils
  • Scissors and glue
  • Cardboard or thick paper for the base of the collage

Process:

  1. Explain the concept of self-talk to participants, and how when we talk negatively to ourselves, it can significantly impact our mood, emotions, and feelings of growth and happiness.

  2. Encourage a discussion around how and when participants are self-critical of themselves and when they engage in self-talk. Ask them to reflect on whether their loved ones would say these things about them. What would their loved ones say about them instead?

  3. Provide participants with the materials and encourage them to create their own word/poem collage filled with positive affirmations and kind words they would like to associate more with themselves.

  4. Let participants be as freely creative as they want, including images and colors that also make them feel good.

  5. When they have finished, instruct them to take this home and place it somewhere they look every day. Encourage them to spend 3–5 minutes each morning or evening taking in what they have created and build these positive words and images into their day.

  6. If a project like this is used in a group or therapy setting, practitioners could ask the participants about their word choices, chosen themes, or interpretations of the poems (Frank, 2014).

 

5. The family sculpture

The family sculpture exercise is a popular art therapy activity that exists in many other therapy types, such as family therapy, though in a modified form. It is enlightening for clients to mold their family in a way that represents the members and the dynamics, and it helps them identify problems in relationships that otherwise might be ignored.

It is a great activity to use with adults, where family dynamics and relationships are more ingrained, to bring awareness to how these things impact our thought processes.

Here’s how to carry out the activity.

You will need:

  • Simple modeling clay, Play-Doh, etc.

Process:

  1. Explain to participants that our families have a significant role in our lives. From an early age, the ways we engage with our families shape how we go on to engage as adults and within other relationships. It’s important to reflect on our family dynamics to understand how and why we might communicate in the ways we do so we can better work to change the ways that might be negative.

  2. Provide participants with the material, and ask them to shape and mold members of their family. A useful way to direct this activity can be to encourage participants to create abstract shapes or use other objects to represent certain family members.

  3. Next, ask participants to position the family members in ways or scenarios that they feel best to reflect the family dynamics more generally.

  4. Participants can then be encouraged to discuss the shapes or objects they have chosen and why. Try to go deeper to uncover what these shapes represent. If used in a full therapy session, participants could also use the figures to conduct a role-play, which can then be discussed with the therapist to uncover deeper thoughts and ideas about their family relationships (Malchiodi, 2010).

 

5 Helpful Art Therapy Activities for Anxiety

mindfulness beadsMore than 18% of adults in the United States are affected by anxiety disorders each year, which is close to 40 million people (Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 2017).

Anxiety is experienced differently by different people and can range from low to severe. The range of symptoms experienced is also extensive, which means for many people, it often goes undiagnosed. Developing positive coping strategies and understanding how anxiety shows up in your life and what triggers an anxious response are crucial for managing anxiety.

One of the most enlightening parts of art therapy is the process of creation, which can be just as revealing as the final product. However, for people with anxiety, there may be an intense need to finish the creative process and create a universally appealing final product.

For people with anxiety, self-discovery and healthy coping mechanisms are essential, and art therapy techniques are among the healthiest ways to deal with some of the symptoms and experiences of living with anxiety.

Below are five art therapy activities, specifically designed to support individuals with anxiety.

 

1. The panic book

People with an anxious panic disorder can spiral into a panic just thinking about the possibility of having a panic attack. Panic attacks can have many triggers, sometimes known, but often not.

The panic book activity encourages participants to create a book full of images that help them keep calm during stressful situations and help refocus their mind onto something more positive.

Here’s how to carry out the activity.

You will need:

  • Artist sketchbooks or blank notebooks
  • Markers and colored pencils
  • Magazines, newspapers, old picture books, etc.
  • Any other craft materials participants might use to create their book. For example, you could download some affirmation images from the internet or ask participants to bring a selection of photographs that are meaningful for them.

Process:

  1. Open the activity with a discussion about how the individuals feel about their panic attacks. Demonstrate empathy and let them know they are not alone in their experiences. Today’s activity will help them to create a resource to support them during anxious times.

  2. Provide each participant with a blank sketchbook/notebook. Tell them this will become their panic book, and within it, they are going to create a reserve of images and words that help them to feel calm.

  3. Allow participants to use all the materials provided to begin creating their panic book. They can do this however they choose, but if someone feels stuck, encourage them to perhaps start by creating a theme for different sections of their book, such as the beach, favorite places and people, or nature scenes.

  4. Participants do not need to fill the entire sketchbook in one session. It is something they can come back to over time and add to as they find more words and images that evoke feelings of calm and comfort for them.

  5. Encourage them to keep this book close with them, so if they feel a moment of panic approaching, they can refer to it as a resource to help distract them and focus on the things that evoke calm emotions.

 

2. What anxiety looks like

Understanding and visualizing anxiety can be a pivotal first step in controlling and treating it.

Representing anxiety as an abstract concept, person, or even a monster can help participants develop strategies to recognize it when they feel it coming on and deal with it appropriately. This activity allows participants to do just that.

Here’s how to do the activity.

You will need:

  • Any decorative materials to help participants create their ‘anxiety’:
    • Paints and easels
    • Markers and colored pencils
    • Collage materials
    • Sculpting clay
    • Miscellaneous materials such as fabrics and textures
    • Scissors, paper, and glue

Process:

  1. Introduce the concept of the workshop activity by discussing anxiety more generally. Ask participants to reflect on the idea that anxiety is mostly an unseen thing, but what if we could see it? What would it look like?

  2. Ask participants to take a mindful minute to reflect on these questions. Ask them to close their eyes and focus on their breathing. Now, have them turn their thoughts to their anxiety. If they had to describe it, where would they begin? Does it have a body, a head, and limbs, or is it more abstract? What shape does it take? Is it tall, short, skinny, fat? What color is it?

  3. Next, ask them to reflect on the personality of the anxiety. Does it talk, or is it silent? What does it care about? How does it express its cares?

  4. Once participants are comfortable, provide them with the materials, and ask them to recreate their anxiety. They can use any medium they feel comfortable with.

  5. When participants have completed their creation, have them discuss the appearance and personality of the anxiety or journal about what they’ve discovered (Tartakovsky, 2015).

 

3. Visual starter

Art therapy for anxiety can be counterproductive in clients who are anxious about creating art.

The visual starter exercise is a way around this, helping individuals to get started without being self-conscious. The starters can be adapted to specific prompts or used solely for healthy stress-relieving creation.

Here’s how to use visual starters for art therapy.

You will need:

  • Printouts of the ‘Starters’ PDFs located via the link above
  • Markers and colored pencils

Process:

  1. Introduce the activity to participants, explaining that it is focused solely on their interpretations and creative process and is not about any artistic skill. There is no right or wrong way to complete the activity.

  2. Provide participants with the printout worksheet and drawing materials, and encourage them to take a moment to reflect on what the shape inspires in them. If needed, you can help them through a short mindfulness/visualization activity to help calm their mind and create some ideas.

  3. For any participants who get stuck, encourage them to take a break and have a discussion around potential inspiration ideas for the shapes.

  4. If applicable, talk about what the final result represents. It’s possible that participants simply drew to experience the relief of focused creation that erases present-moment anxiety.

 

4. Creating mindfulness beads

Similar to a worry stone or fidget cube, mindfulness beads can be a simple, cheap coping mechanism that are fun to create and easy to carry around.

Here’s how to make and use mindfulness beads. There are a few ways to create mindfulness beads, depending on who you complete the workshop with and your skill level.

You will need:

  • Purchase a mixture of beads
  • Find some old jewelry at home or from a thrift store that you can take apart
  • Use simple oven-bake modeling clay to make the beads

You will also need:

  • Some string or leather strands to add the beads to

Process:

  1. Explain the concept of mindfulness to participants, if they are unfamiliar with it, and talk them through a short introductory mindfulness exercise. Ask them to close their eyes, and focus on their breathing, feeling each breath as they slowly inhale and exhale.

  2. Then, explain the concept of mindfulness beads and that you will be creating them. Mindfulness beads can be used during times of anxiety as something to refocus their mind and create a distraction from anxious thoughts while they practice mindfulness.

  3. Provide participants with whichever option of creating their own beads you have chosen. Ask them to take a moment to think about the colors they find most enjoyable and what textures they might like to feel when trying to distract themselves.

  4. They can use the beads and string to create a keychain, bracelet, or necklace, whichever they feel would be most helpful for them.

  5. When finished, advise that when using the beads, they can simply reflect on the overall appearance and texture, or they can touch and focus on one bead at a time, assigning meaning and using each bead as a prompt for meditation.

 

5. Zentangle drawing

Zentangle art therapyDrawing patterns that allow your brain to enter a peaceful flow state reduces anxiety and helps promote a feeling of peace, slowing down time and allowing you to focus on the present moment.

Zentangle was created with the promise that anyone can do it, even if they don’t think they can draw well enough to create something beautiful. Drawing Zentangles creates a feeling of accomplishment and helps to pass the time in a thoughtful, healing way.

Here’s how to draw Zentangles.

You will need:

  • Markers and colored pencils
  • Plain paper

Process:

  1. Instruct participants to take a moment to feel gratitude and express appreciation for the materials and the opportunity to create something beautiful. Remind them that the activity is not about artistic skill or who can draw better than anyone else. There are no right or wrong ways to complete the activity.

  2. Provide each participant with paper and their choice of markers/pencils. Ask them to draw four dots, one in each corner, so the page is no longer blank and intimidating.

  3. Next, instruct them to connect the dots by drawing a light border around the edges of the paper, creating a square.

  4. Within that square, they can draw lines that divide the paper into different sections. They can do this any way they like, creating as many different shapes as they like.

  5. Now that they have a square filled with shapes, ask them to pick one shape and to begin filling it in with more defined shapes, strokes, dashes, lines, or dots, keeping within the pre-drawn border. Tell them to move around the page filling in each shape with its own unique set of shapes, lines, and strokes. They can be as creative as they like with this, rotating the paper to suit their free-flowing creativity.

  6. Advise participants this is their creative piece to shade in different ways and use different colors if they would like to.

  7. Participants keep going until they have filled the entire page.

 

5 Art Therapy Books to Read

Whether you’re looking for additional education on art therapy or exercises and activities for yourself or clients, there are plenty of resources out there.

Below I’ve picked five of my favorite books that are well worth looking into if you’re interested in art therapy.

 

1. Art Therapy Sourcebook – Cathy Malchiodi

Art Therapy SourcebookMalchiodi’s book is like a textbook for art therapy self-education.

She defines ways to perform art therapy yourself and how to interpret the results.

Malchiodi also has a growing legacy of art therapy publications that would benefit the casual learner and professional alike.

Available on Amazon.

 

2. Art as Therapy: Collected Papers – Edith Kramer

Art as TherapyEdith Kramer is known as a pioneer in the field of art therapy.

This collection of papers touches on many topics relating to therapy, art, society, and clinical practice.

As it is slightly more academic focused, with an overview of previous and current research, it is an excellent resource for those considering entering the field of art therapy as a profession.

Available on Amazon.

 

3. Art Therapy Techniques and Applications – Susan Buchalter

Art Therapy Techniques and ApplicationsFor practitioners and individuals alike, Buchalter’s workbook is a fantastic addition for anyone wanting to explore art therapy further.

The book contains exercises that combine many different art mediums with mindfulness exercises and counseling applications.

Available on Amazon.

 

 

4. The Book of Zentangle – Rick Roberts and Maria Thomas

The Book of ZentangleIf you found the Zentangle activity described above particularly insightful or useful, then this book could be for you.

It’s a foundational educational source on the development of the Zentangle and includes completed Zentangles for inspiration.

The authors describe it as a left brain/right brain resource for conjoining pictures and words.

Available on Amazon.

 

5. 100 Magnificent Mandalas: Adult Coloring Book Vol. 1 – Jade Summer

100 Magnificent MandalasIn a study by Curry and Kasser (2005), participants showed reduced anxiety symptoms after coloring plaid and mandala patterns that put them into a meditative state.

Although not considered an authentic art therapy resource in research terms, a coloring book full of meditative mandala patterns could be a worthy investment for reducing anxiety and practicing art therapy as part of a self-care regime.

Available on Amazon.

You can also find a list of the 16 best therapy books here.

 

How to Become an Art Therapist

art therapy art therapistArt therapy is newer than Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, psychotherapy, and other talk-based therapies.

It is still gaining traction, but positive psychology research has shown that when combined with other therapies, art therapy has great success in treating disorders, garnering it a great deal of respect and making it an ever-growing field.

If you’re interested in becoming a licensed art therapist, do some research about what regions would recognize your license once it’s obtained.

Most importantly, research art therapy thoroughly and find out what art therapists from around the world love about the job as well as the challenges that come with it.

Art therapists tend to focus their work with either adults or children and can work in a range of settings, including hospitals, care facilities, and schools.

If you think art therapy is the right career choice for you, then here are some steps you can take toward becoming an art therapist:

  • If you haven’t already, obtain a bachelor’s degree in behavioral or social science that will prepare you for work at the master’s level.

  • To be an accredited art therapist, you will have to seek acceptance into the appropriate association for your region. Pathways to gaining accreditation can vary, so research what this might look like for yourself. Making an appointment with a career advisor or university course advisor can also help shed some light on the best educational pathway to pursue.

  • Become familiar and comfortable with art and its many expressions, alongside your required learning to practice therapy.

  • Gain appropriate work experience, whether paid or unpaid, so you can begin building your professional skills and knowledge. Seek out mentors and other qualified therapists in the field that you can learn from.

  • Reach out to local hospitals, assisted living centers, psychiatric hospitals, detention centers, or schools to find out about needs in these communities for licensed counselors with your skills.

 

How to Find an Art Therapist Near You

The internet has opened up many useful avenues for finding professionals that specialize in specific therapy or counseling needs. Thankfully, there are many directories of art therapists that can be searched by postal code.

Some directories that can be searched by location and that include art therapists are:

If your region currently recognizes art therapy as a viable counseling option, then it likely has a local art therapy association with a directory of licensed professionals local to you.

Finally, it’s common to wonder whether your insurance will even cover treatment by an art therapist. Generally, the best way to find out is to call your insurance provider. It might be able to refer you to an art therapist in your area who’s covered by your insurance.

 

A Take-Home Message

I hope after reading this article, you’ve found a deeper appreciation for art therapy as a practice and the range of resources available to you as an individual or practitioner that can be easily implemented with a variety of clients.

Working with young people, I know how important it is to encourage their creativity at any possible moment, and I regularly utilize collage as an expressive form to help my students tap into their ideas. These visual representations always instigate some fantastic group discussions and one-to-one dialogues that the students and I find valuable.

If there’s one thing I want you to take away from this article, it’s that art therapy can be used by absolutely anyone. There is no prerequisite of artistic skill. The more you tap into your creative process, the more comfortable you’ll feel with how you choose to express yourself through artistic methods.

Have you used any art therapy activities in your practice, either personally or with clients? Which ones did you use and how did it go? I’d love to hear all about your experiences in the comments below.

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Positive Psychology Exercises for free.

If you wish for more, our Positive Psychology Toolkit© contains over 350 science-based positive psychology exercises, interventions, questionnaires, and assessments for practitioners to use in their therapy, coaching, or workplace.

  • American Art Therapy Association. (2013). What is art therapy? Retrieved from http://www.arttherapy.org/upload/whatisarttherapy.pdf
  • Anxiety and Depression Association of America. (2017). Facts & statistics. Retrieved from https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics
  • Buchalter, S. I. (2009). Art therapy techniques and applications. Jessica Kingsley.
  • Curry, N., & Kasser, T. (2005). Can coloring mandalas reduce anxiety? Art Therapy: Journal of American Art Therapy Association, 22(2), 81–85.
  • Frank, P. (2014). 10 Easy art therapy techniques to help you destress. Huffington Post. Retrieved from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/11/07/art-therapy-techniques_n_6103092.html
  • Kramer, E. (2001). Art as therapy (Collected papers). Jessica Kingsley.
  • Malchiodi, C. (2006). Art therapy sourcebook. McGraw-Hill Education.
  • Malchiodi, C. (2010). Cool art therapy intervention #9: Family sculpture. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/arts-and-health/201002/cool-art-therapy-intervention-9-family-sculpture
  • Potash, J. S., Chan, F., Ho, A. H. Y., Wang, X. L., & Cheng, C. (2015). A model for art therapy-based supervision for end-of-life care workers in Hong Kong. Death Studies, 39, 44–51.
  • Roberts, R., & Thomas, M. (n.d.). The book of Zentangle. King Printing.
  • Schwartz, D. (2017). Unmasked: Expressive arts therapy directive. Art Therapy Blog. Retrieved from http://www.arttherapyblog.com/art-therapy-activities/unmasked/#.Wg3OchNSzeR
  • Summer, J. (2016). Mandala coloring book: 100+ Unique mandala designs and stress relieving patterns for adult relaxation, meditation, and happiness. Author.
  • Tartakovsky, M. (2015). 3 Art therapy techniques to deal with anxiety. Psych Central. Retrieved from https://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2015/10/19/3-art-therapy-techniques-to-deal-with-anxiety
  • Zentangle. (n.d.) Get Started. Retrieved from https://zentangle.com/pages/get-started

About the Author

Elaine Mead, BSc. Dual Honours, is a counselor, passionate educator, writer, and learner. Since completing her degree in psychology, she has been fascinated by the different ways we learn - both socially and academically - and the ways in which we utilize our experiences to become more authentic versions of our selves. She is currently completing her diploma in Cognitive Behavioural Coaching & Mentoring.

Comments

  1. Mruga

    I am handling a research about an art therapy, and this is exactly I was trying to find

    Thankyou so much :))

    Reply
  2. Wendy McDonald

    So happy to have found this. I referenced and cited this article in my college research paper on Art Therapy. I especially liked the history given here. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
  3. Tiffany A Brown

    Hello when was this article written

    Reply
    • Nicole Celestine

      Hi Tiffany,

      This article was first published Mar 25, 2020. 🙂

      – Nicole | Community Manager

      Reply
  4. Denise D. Hall

    This article was amazing! I found the information to be very useful, the activities extremely easy to create, and I think I have found a new career! Thank you so much!

    Reply
  5. Zora Picher

    This is the suitable blog for anybody who desires to find out about this topic. You realize so much its virtually laborious to argue with you (not that I actually would want…HaHa). You definitely put a new spin on a subject thats been written about for years. Great stuff, simply great!

    Reply
    • Nicole Celestine

      Hi Zora,
      Thank you for the lovely feedback and for being a reader. We’re very glad you enjoyed the post.
      – Nicole | Community Manager

      Reply
  6. Beatrice Benbow

    Long time ago, My mom kept beating me up for doing expressive activities. She wanted me to go to my room and start hurting myself, because I was expressing myself. My mom is a child Abuser. but, thank goodness she passed away in 2016. so, I could do one of your expressive activities to help cope my pain between mom abusing me, and me not being able to do anything because of the Corona-virus, which started 3 months ago in China and which started to spread around The United Kingdom, AND the United States of America. also, you got to keep ur head up when it is a struggle.

    Reply
    • Nicole Celestine

      Hi Beatrice,
      I’m so sorry to read about your experience with your mother. It’s terrible that you experienced punishment for what is supposed to be an expressive, healthy activity. I hope you succeed in rekindling your enjoyment of art — I’d hope that that joy is something no one can take away from you.
      – Nicole | Community Manager

      Reply
  7. daniel shepherd

    Nice overview of the field. You provided everything I was wondering about as an initial re-entry into the practice of Art Therapy. It was introduced to me a few times during my training for a Master of Arts in Counseling, and now someone in my case load needs this type of therapy.

    Reply

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