(Investigator 151, 2013 July)


Art Therapy had its genesis in America in the early part of the 19th. century when an interest was taken in the psychological significance of the arts.

Although Margaret Naumburg defined Art Therapy as a profession and established the Walden School in America in 1915, the benefits of Art Therapy were not fully recognised until the 1950s. In 1961, the Bulletin of Art Therapy, published by Elinor Ulman became an independent forum for practitioners.

In 1969, The American Art Therapy Association was established in Louisville, Kentucky. The British Association of Art Therapists was granted the status of one of the Professions Supplementary to Medicine in December 1981.


The underlying idea is that art is a reflection of the subconscious mind and that observation and analysis of the patient's painting provides a diagnostic tool for the treatment of many complex health problems.


Patients are encouraged to draw, paint, doodle or sculpt as a means of allowing the instinctive and intuitive awareness patterns free access from the right brain. The results deduced by art therapists and psychologists.


Art therapy has been part of standard occupational therapy for decades and is used today in many hospital rehabilitation centres, mental health centres, and correctional institutions to treat the emotionally disturbed, the elderly and the physically disabled.

It's a therapy in which people physically express their thoughts, not only for pleasure, but to enable trained therapists to help diagnose and treat many complex mental health problems.

The way people interpret varying designs and colours reveals much about their mental state, rather like the Rorschach ink-blot tests of the 1920s. When words don't come easily, art is an alternative to bypass the intellectual defences.

Part of its alleged therapeutic value is to provide an outlet for the patient's troubled feelings. It gives .hospitalised patients something to do. It is also successful in alleviating distress, emotional and physical impairments, treating the drug dependent and for teaching learning-disabled children. It is particularly useful for the latter and for helping adult stroke victims who've lost the use of their dominant hand.


Kastner, Mark A. & Burrows, Hugh. 1993. Alternative Healing. Halcyon Publishing, PO Box 4157, La Mesa, CA 91944-4157.

Hope, Murry. 1989. The Psychology of Healing. Element Books, Longmead, Shaftsbury, Dorset.

Inglis, B. and West, R 1983. The Alternative Health Guide, Michael Joseph, London.

From: Edwards, H. 1999 Alternative, Complementary, Holistic & Spiritual Healing, Australian Skeptics