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The healing power of art

When feelings are too painful or puzzling to express with words, drawing them in vivid colors or forming them with damp clay can bring them to life.

How does art therapy work?
O’Donnell provides her clients with materials such as pastels and paper and usually begins by asking them to draw anything that comes to their mind. Next, to draw a tree. And then to draw how they’re feeling. “This initial process gives me a sense of how art can work for them,” she said. “A patient with bipolar may draw how her week has been, and we can talk about that.”

Someone may say “I can’t draw,” but O’Donnell assures them that’s not what’s important; that they don’t have to be an artist and they can’t make a mistake.

Individuals can use drawing, painting or clay to give physical form to emotions, dreams, memories and concerns that cannot be expressed with words. A patient may work silently or while having a conversation with their therapist. He might take the artwork home where it may provide further insight.

What are the qualifications of an art therapist?
Anyone can call themselves an art therapist, so it’s important to verify the therapist’s credentials. An accredited Art Therapist holds a Master’s or PhD degree, has completed an accredited art therapy program and has met stringent requirements.

Art Therapists are trained in Developmental and Psychological theory in group, individual and family therapy, along with theories of art, the use of various media, and the meaning and assessment of images. Students complete two years of supervised practice working directly with patients in individual, group, or family formats. The designation ATR is granted by the national Art Therapy Credentialing Board and re-certification is required every 5 years.

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