How to Do Art Therapy

Five Methods:Exploring Art TherapyScribbling with Your Eyes ClosedDesigning a Self PortraitCreating a Self-Soothing Image BookAnalyzing Your Work

When many people think of therapy or counseling, they imagine lying on a couch and talking to a psychologist about their problems. Art therapy, however, presents an interesting alternative that focuses less on conversation and more on the creative process and individual expression. While it's most effective to work with a trained art therapist, you can begin to explore the benefits of art therapy by trying out a few projects on your own.

Method 1
Exploring Art Therapy

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    Learn what art therapy means. Before you begin to do art therapy, it’s helpful to understand what exactly this process entails. In psychology, art therapy is a type of psychotherapy, a counseling technique, and a rehabilitation program where people make art to improve their physical, mental, and emotional well-being.[1][2]
    • The central idea behind art therapy is that expressing one’s self through art can be used to help people reduce stress, cope with trauma, resolve problems, and better understand their feelings and behaviors.
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    Evaluate the advantages of this approach. As you prepare to do art therapy, it’s important to consider some of the potential advantages of this approach:[3][4]
    • On a basic level, art therapy can help reduce your stress level, elevate your mood, and improve your overall mental health. This approach often teaches you about yourself and makes you aware of things that you may not have consciously acknowledged.
    • People who are not comfortable talking about themselves or participating in more traditional forms of counseling and therapy can use art to express their feelings and emotions. This is one of the features of art therapy that make it especially successful with children who might not have the vocabulary to articulate how they are feeling or are shy and withdrawn.
    • Another benefit of art therapy is that it can be done alone or in a group setting. Similarly, you can participate in art therapy on your own, or work with a trained art therapist who will teach you how to participate in art therapy, guide you through self analysis, and make sure you derive the most benefit for your specific needs.
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    Decide if art therapy is right for you. While anyone can benefit and you don't need to be a skilled artist, psychologists have found that art therapy can be especially beneficial to the following groups of people: [5][6][7]
    • Children who may not have the vocabulary to articulate how they are feeling or what they are thinking.
    • People who are shy and withdrawn, or who are uncomfortable talking with a therapist or counselor.
    • Individuals who have autism, dementia, cognitive disabilities, and traumatic brain injuries.
    • Victims of abuse, as well as people dealing with mental illnesses such as post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, and anxiety disorders.
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    Work with a trained art therapist. While you can perform art therapy exercises on your own, working with a trained art therapist can be helpful, especially at first. They will teach you how to participate in art therapy, guide you through self analysis of your work, and make sure you engage in exercises and therapy that meets your specific needs.[8]
    • If you have been diagnosed or believe you may have a mental illness, you will likely derive more benefit from working with a trained professional who can treat your condition and help you feel better as soon as possible.
    • Trained art therapists often have a master’s or doctorate degree in psychology, counseling, or art education. More colleges and universities are also developing degree programs focused specifically on art therapy.
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    Locate an art therapist. Art therapy is practiced in hospitals, rehabilitation centers, schools, crisis centers, nursing homes, and private practices. If you would like to do art therapy and work with a trained art therapist, here are a few tips to help you locate one:
    • Look online at the American Art Therapy Association’s registry of credentialed art therapists. This registry is organized by state and city to make it easy to find a trained art therapist in your area.[9]
    • If you have heard of an art therapist or mental health professional who uses art therapy, see if they have been credentialed by the Art Therapy Credentials Board, the main art therapy professional organization in the United States.[10]
    • Many therapists discuss their training and specialties on their websites or in online profiles. Review these to see if they mention experience with art therapy. You can also call the therapist’s office and ask if they employ this approach.

Method 2
Scribbling with Your Eyes Closed

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    Relax. Before you start the exercise, it can be helpful to relax for a few minutes by listening to calming music, meditating, or doing yoga. You will feel more comfortable and at ease while you are working on the project.[11]
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    Assemble a large sheet of paper and something to color with. Tape a large sheet of paper to a table or desk so it won’t move around when you start scribbling. Also, find colored pencils, crayons, markers, or chalk pastels that you can use to color on the paper. [12]
    • Have several different colors available so you can choose what you would like to use as you are creating your piece.
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    Select one of the colors. Choose one of the colors and place the tip of the crayon, marker, or pencil in the middle of the paper.
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    Close your eyes and start scribbling. With your eyes closed, scribble for about half a minute. [13]
    • If you're worried you aren't creative or artistic enough for art therapy, this can be a good place to start. People are usually comfortable scribbling because we all did it as children.
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    Open your eyes and examine your picture. When you open your eyes, closely look at your picture. [14]
    • Taping it to a wall or hanging it on the fridge and considering it at a distance will give you a better perspective.
    • Also, consider it from different angles.
    • This is all about you, so don't criticize your art form. After all, you are drawing with your eyes closed!
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    Select a shape, figure, or area in your picture and color it. Pick out a specific part of your picture and color this area, adding details to make this image clearer.[15]
    • You don’t have to restrict yourself to one color.
    • At this point, you can keep your eyes open.
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    Hang up your project. After you’ve finished coloring the area, display your picture on a surface and think about a title for the piece. [16]

Method 3
Designing a Self Portrait

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    Decide what you will use to create your self-portrait. Assemble art supplies you have on hand, collage materials, or whatever you plan to use to create your self-portrait. Any materials are acceptable.[17]
    • If you are less comfortable with art projects or worry about your artistic abilities, collage is an easy and interesting way to create your self-portrait. You can use images from magazines or newspapers, and include objects, scraps of paper, and pieces of different materials.[18]
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    Create the self-portrait. Using the materials, images, or objects you settled on, start creating your self portrait. This exercise is a way to communicate how you see yourself, so don’t think or worry about how other people view you.[19]
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    Set boundaries. Some people find the idea of creating a self portrait challenging or overwhelming. As a result, it can be helpful to ask a specific question or set a boundary that narrows the focus of the project. Here are a few questions you could focus on for this exercise:[20]
    • What do you think your best qualities are?
    • What do you want to improve on?
    • What do you want to be remembered for?
    • You can repeat this art exercise using a different question each time and then assemble and analyze the different self-portraits you create.[21]
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    Consider your self-portrait. Now that you finished your self portrait, it’s time to reflect on it. You can refer to the section of this article on analyzing your work, or ask some of the questions below:[22]
    • Why did you choose the materials, images, or items you did?
    • What kind of themes or patterns does your self portrait suggest?
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    Share your self-portrait with a friend. This can be a fun and informative exercise to do with a friend, so share your self-portraits with each other and talk about why you created it the way you did.
    • Working alongside someone can make the project seem less intimidating and help you feel more comfortable.

Method 4
Creating a Self-Soothing Image Book

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    Gather your supplies. To complete this project, you will need 10 to 20 sheets of 8 ½ by 11-inch paper, scissors, glue, magazines, catalogues, and other collage materials.[23]
    • If you do not want to paste the images or items you collect on paper, you can use fabric or another material. Embrace your creativity.
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    Think about what soothes you. Take a few minutes to think about specific smells, tastes, sounds, places, people, and experiences that you find calming, happy, or relaxing. Keep a record of your ideas.[24]
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    Find and cut out images that relate. Using magazines, catalogues, photographs, newspapers, or other collage materials, identify images that relate to the things that you find soothing. Cut out the images and set them aside.[25]
    • For example, if you find the beach soothing, find a picture of the ocean, a shell, or a palm tree.
    • You will need quite a few images to cover the pages of the book, so cut out a lot and then you can discard any you don’t use or have room for.
    • If you find multiple images that relate to one another, you can group them together so it will be easier to assemble and organize your book.
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    Glue the images onto the paper. After organizing the images however you like, glue them and attach them to the pages of the book.[26]
    • There is no right or wrong way to group images in this exercise, so do whatever makes you feel good.
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    Create a cover. Design a cover for your book using the same collage technique.
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    Assemble your book. Now that you’ve created a cover, you can begin assembling the book. Order and arrange the pages however you would like.[27]
    • Punching holes in the pages and putting them in a binder is an easy and inexpensive way to assemble the book, but feel free to be creative.
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    Reflect on your book. Look through your book and make notes about your thoughts and feelings. Here are a few questions to help you get started:[28]
    • How do certain images make you feel?
    • What do the images make you think about?
    • Which type of images do you prefer?
    • What did you choose not to include in your book and why?
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    Keep adding to the book. Add pages and images to your book over time to continue expanding it and make note of how the images you select change over time.
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    Pull out your book when you need to be soothed. When you are feeling stressed out, upset, or depressed, take out your self-soothing book and look through the images. Think about why they soothe you.
    • The exercise of adding to the book can also be relaxing.

Method 5
Analyzing Your Work

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    Ask yourself about your work. An important part of art therapy is thinking about your work and asking critical questions about the project you create. Here are a few recommended things to consider when analyzing your project:[29]
    • What feeling does the piece communicate to you?
    • Does the image seem happy, depressed, mad, etc.?
    • Does the piece express different feelings?
    • How are these feelings conveyed through specific colors, lines, or shapes?
    • Ask yourself what the image might say if it could speak?
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    Pick out a specific part of your project or piece of art. Select a certain aspect of your project you find appealing or that you don’t care for.[30]
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    Redo that part of your project. Create a new piece inspired by that area or section you chose. Add more details, include different images, and change the colors. Then, you can re-analyze your work and ask yourself questions about the changes you made.[31]
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    Respond to the original piece. Employing the same approach or exercise you originally used, try creating a new picture or project. Then, you can compare the two works and assess how they may convey different feelings.[32]
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    Keep your projects. Don’t throw your work away or discard it. Instead, keep it in a place where you can take it out, look at it, and consider how your art and feelings change over time.
    • The process of regularly analyzing your art will teach you how to self-observe, which can be useful in identifying and managing certain behaviors. Old projects may take on new meanings the more you analyze them.


  • You do not have to be a skilled artist or have any art experience to engage in art therapy.
  • If you feel like you have a hard time articulating or sharing your feelings through traditional counseling and therapy methods, art therapy might be an excellent choice for you.


  • While you can perform art therapy exercises on your own, working with a trained art therapist can be beneficial, especially if you have been diagnosed with a mental illness. Art therapists can help get you started, guide you through art therapy, and make sure the exercises you do are appropriate for your specific needs.

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Categories: Alternative Health | Drawing Therapy