Founded in 1969, The American Art Therapy Association describes art therapy as a mental health profession that enriches the lives of individuals, families and communities through active art-making, creative processes, applied psychological theory and human experience within a psychotherapeutic relationship.
While this activity may not be the most popular form of therapy in and of itself, the field continues to grow due to passionate scholars of the craft.
Maureen Harvey, who has a masters in human relations with a concentration in art therapy from the University of Oklahoma, leads art and nature groups for personal growth at Shawnee’s Mabee-Gerrer Museum. Previously, she worked at the VA Medical Center in Oklahoma City as a creative arts therapist, retiring in 2014. Harvey says that because trauma is stored in the primitive part of the brain, art therapy helps to resolve it.
“Art therapy,” she says, “helps build a bridge from pictures – primitive – to language – logic.”
In her 18 years working within the acute-care inpatient psychiatric ward at the VA Medical Center, Harvey had an effective process with each patient. After receiving a large piece of paper and oil pastels, the patient was asked to draw anything they liked. This process revealed the patient’s current state of mind.
Corretta Harding, who has a doctorate in international psychology from the Chicago School of Professional Psychology, as well as a masters of human relations from the University of Oklahoma, has a private art therapy practice in Oklahoma City.
Anyone seeking art therapy can expect to participate in an assessment, goal setting and art activities to address issues and set goals. An art therapist is trained to understand how different art mediums can help a person explore topics in a nonverbal way. Harding, who has provided coaching services to people within the U.S. and overseas, has worked with children in therapeutic foster care and learned about their history, thoughts and trauma through art therapy.
“The children didn’t have that pressure of how they should, or could, say anything,” she says.
Brittany Dray, a licensed marital and family therapist, as well as a board certified art therapist, works at Oklahoma Children’s Hospital at OU Health in Oklahoma City. Art therapy, which can help with coping, self-expression, self-efficacy and pain management, can benefit anyone and everyone – including entire communities. For example, Dray was a part of “Oklahoma’s Largest Puzzle Ever-ish,” a project created through the hospital in collaboration with artists Gabriel Friedman and Denise Duong.
“The 90-piece puzzle continues to foster community spirit through its public display, sharing the visual stories of patients and families,” she says.
Those interested in becoming an art therapist should visit arttherapy.org for a list of approved programs. You can also visit the art therapy credentialing board at atcb.org/new-applicants.
Those wanting to instead receive/participate in art therapy should check if a provider has current national art therapy credentials at atcb.org/find-a-credentialed-art-therapist.