Is It Art Therapy? Distinguishing Art Therapy from Arts & Crafts

If you were to walk into an art therapy group, it may be difficult to tell if it were an arts & crafts group or an art therapy group. Adding to that confusion, is the fact that some art therapists working with older adults are hired into activities programming when they are better aligned with mental health or social service teams.

So, what is the difference between art therapy and arts & crafts?

Arts & Crafts

  •  The primary goal is creating a finished artwork within a fun learning environment
  •  The facilitator, who is trained or experienced in art, may influence the creation of the artwork or even provide advice.
  • The person may be expected to make use of a particular set of skills that can be taught, practiced, evaluated or judged aesthetically.
  • The artwork produced may be exhibited or assessed.

Art Therapy

  • The primary goal is the intentional use of the arts for psychological change as a form of therapy within a therapeutic context.
  •  The artwork produced is not intended as a product in itself.
  • Drawing an “ugly” picture or “destroying” a picture is viewed as an important and valuable expression.
  • The artwork does not have to be aesthetically pleasing or even finished to be valuable.

The Role of the Art Therapist

An art therapist’s role is to act as a facilitator, a guide and a witness, who helps a person navigate through their emotions and needs. Art, in this context, is a means to self-discovery and is the link between the person and the therapist. The art materials chosen and the way feelings are expressed are important aspects of the creative process. Art therapists are professionals trained in both art and therapy. They are knowledgeable about human development, psychological theories, clinical practice, spiritual, multicultural and artistic traditions, and the healing potential of art. They use art in treatment, assessment and research, and provide consultations to other professionals.

The Role of the Art in Therapy

Artwork in art therapy provides the focus of the communication and acts as a vehicle for understanding growth and change. There is an interaction between the person and the therapist, in which they work together to understand the art process and product of the session.

Reasons to Recommend Art Therapy to Older Adults

• Loneliness • Anxiety • Depression • Grief • Frequent Irritability • Low self-esteem • Excessive worrying • Recent or past trauma • Life crisis

For alternative approaches to wellness please read: Let’s talk about sex: A psychosocial group in a skilled nursing facility by Carmen Wyttenbach, Volunteerism: One Remedy for Loneliness in Aging by Sharon Belloff or Mindful Aging: Meditation as Self-Care for Older Adults by Amy Roth.   Thank you to Groove Press for sharing the photo and to Renee Bober for editing this post.


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