Art therapy is a form of psychotherapy that involves use of art materials, specific art processes and art assessments in conjunction with traditional therapeutic interventions in treating a variety of mental health issues. Art therapy can be used in virtually any setting with all age groups (from children to the elderly) and is effective in treating individuals with a variety of diagnoses. A wide variety of art materials and processes are utilized in art therapy and each has specific therapeutic benefits. Some art therapists use a theoretical model called the Expressive Therapies Continuum (ETC) to guide the therapeutic process.
“The Expressive Therapies Continuum (ETC) provides a theoretical model for art-based assessments and applications of media in art therapy. The three levels of the ETC (Kinesthetic/ Sensory, Perceptual/Affective, and Cognitive/Symbolic) appear to reflect different functions and structures in the brain that process visual and affective information. Assessment of the formal elements in an artwork can help a therapist determine how a client is processing information via the different levels of the ETC. Treatment planning can identify stepwise transitions between the ETC levels as well as horizontal transformations within each level.”(1.)
It could be argued that there is somewhat of a chasm between art therapy and the rest of the helping professions (mental health counseling, psychology, etc.) Art therapists must hold a masters degree or higher in order to work as a professional in the field. Currently, licensure as an art therapist is only available in a handful of states (KY, MS, NM, NY), Ohio is very close to passing legislation for art therapy licensure but the rest of the states have quite a way to go. Without a license, in a clinical position, art therapists may opt to work under supervision of a licensed counselor but that is somewhat limiting as far as employment is concerned. In order to obtain a license to practice (and subsequently bill insurance for services provided), art therapists must obtain a license to practice as a mental health counselor in the state in which they wish to practice. The type of license varies state-to-state. See this chart for more specific information about state-to-state licensure requirements.
There is a debate among art therapy professionals with regard to whether or not the requirement for licensure as a counselor is eroding the nature of art therapy as a standalone helping profession. That topic would be best suited for another post at some point in the future.