How often do you reflect on the things in your life that you are grateful for or that make you happy? Probably less often than you think about problems and disappointments. And have you ever wanted to draw or put into words the blessings in your life? And would you depict your problems, or perhaps the negative emotions you were experiencing at a particular moment, so you could see them in black and white and maybe convince yourself that they weren’t so scary? This is a simple art therapy exercise that you can apply to your daily life. In this article, you’ll get a better understanding of art therapy as a psychotherapeutic approach. 

What is NOT art therapy?

There are many colouring books for children and adults that promote colouring as a way to utilize some time to yourself or as an opportunity to practice mindfulness. Many people think of it as art therapy. But it is not! While this activity can certainly be a type of relaxation, it is not classified as an art therapy technique.

An art therapy session is not an art lesson either. It is not about learning drawing skills, rather it focuses on the process of creation through which people express themselves. The resulting works are highly personal, capturing clients’ thoughts and insights into their emotional states. These works are not judged on their aesthetic merits! They are the rungs on the therapeutic ladder winding upwards towards growth.

What IS art therapy?

Art therapy is a hybrid discipline of therapeutic practice that combines art and psychology  In this approach, clients, assisted by the art therapist, use a variety of materials and artistic techniques, the creative process, and the resulting or other works of art to release and explore their feelings, overcome unresolved conflicts and traumas, increase self-awareness and self-esteem, reduce anxiety, develop social skills, and learn to better manage their behaviors and addictions.

The “two leaps” and the “four steps” in art therapy

To go deeper into the essence of the therapeutic approach currently under consideration, you can’t help but go through the “two leaps” and the “four steps.”

During the art therapeutic, or rather creative process, one jumps from the rational to the irrational “dimension” of the mind. It is after this first jump that the release of and focus on emotions occurs. In this “dimension” there is also freedom of expression, self-knowledge and self-love, creativity, imagination and individuality. Of course, no one judges or condemns the creator. Once he finishes his healing work he jumps a second time and finds himself back in the rational “dimension”. There, with a little help and encouragement, just as amazed and inquisitive as a small child exploring the world around him, the client consciously explores his inner world, perhaps even the recesses of his subconscious. Each person is unique and their perceptions are different, so the client focuses on their interpretation of the work created by them or someone else. With this client’s task in mind, think about what you think the swans depicted in Mikhail Nesterov’s 1905 painting “Two Frets” mean or symbolize.



Moreover, for participants to have the strength to jump high and far enough, at least four steps must be taken, leading to active imagination, mental relief, and the acquisition of strength and courage. The first thing to be accomplished is to empty the mind of unnecessary and intrusive thoughts. The second step is to allow various mental images to enter the field of attention and remain there for a period of time that is neither too long nor too short – the images should not be over-considered, but neither should they go unnoticed. The balance between peace of mind (needed for the images to emerge) and tension (needed to focus on and use the images in the creative process) can be difficult and require both more patience and practice (but it is certainly possible to achieve!). The third step is to reflect on what has been seen and experienced, to give it form in writing or other artistic form. The final step is reflection on the messages received from the creative activity.

Different types of art therapy?

Actually, there is much more than one kind of art therapy! Just take a look at this list!

Art therapy with painting

Music Therapy

Dance/movement therapy

Poetry/writing therapy

Creative writing



There’s more! But now it is important to clarify some things. The five main types of expressive art therapy techniques are art therapy with drawing, music therapy, dance therapy, writing therapy and psychodrama. The first technique mainly uses methods such as drawing, painting and sculpture (it is discussed in most detail in this article). In the latter, sounds and music are the focus. In the next technique, body movement in the form of dance or some exercise is key. It is perhaps not in the least surprising to you (especially if you have ever kept a journal for any length of time) that writing, a common expressive art therapy technique, has a healing effect. Psychodrama as an approach involves techniques from drama, usually the client trying to better understand past, present or future situations and their roles by acting them out.

Art is indeed a unique therapeutic tool, encompassing all of human existence and nurturing people’s natural interest to create. Probably not every type of art therapy will be right for you, but you can’t know without trying! It’s also important to remember that every artistic endeavour has the ability to turn wounds into inspiration, light and hope!