Art therapy is about the process – not the finished product
In times of stress, men and women of all ages are often encouraged to pick up a hobby or throw themselves into an activity as a form of relief- a coping mechanism or distraction. With many activities, be they sport, a musical instrument or even learning a language, the focus is on results. An emphasis on churning out a perfect finished product can often lead to more stress as we strive for “perfection,” whatever that may be. A distraction, perhaps, but shifting our stress to one area rather than another doesn’t seem like the healthiest form of relief.
This is where art differs, and why so many people turn to art therapy in overcoming personal hurdles and hardships. Art therapy is about the process, not the finished product.
In the same way that stress, anxiety, hardships, happiness and relief look different to all of us, art is unique to the individual. Art in all its forms is entirely subjective, and the purpose of art as therapy is for each person to be able to express themselves in ways they may never have explored before. The finished product is always beautiful, not because of what you physically see in front of you, but because of the process each artist worked through to get there.
The process is different for everyone, as is the result. Art therapy accepts and welcomes everyone and every medium, from clay to paint, pencils to mixed media sculpting materials. It would be remiss not to encourage each art therapy client to feel proud of their completed work, however the greatest accomplishment of all is becoming a part of the art creation process. For many who don’t consider themselves to be particularly “creative,” simply setting foot in an art therapy session is something to be incredibly proud of. For others, it’s more about learning how to create using mediums and textures they may never have explored before. For most, it’s about being brave enough to try something new and tapping into a sense of peace and calm during the creative process that they may have lost touch with.
For every single person who engages in art therapy, the greatest accomplishment of all occurs well before the artwork is anywhere near “finished,”. In fact, it often occurs before the paint has even hit the paper (or materials of any kind have touched their hands). It’s harnessing emotions and using parts of the brain that they’ve never dwelled on before, and expressing those emotions in a visual way. In times of great stress it can feel easier to repress our emotions, particularly those that we struggle to put into words. Art therapy allows and, more importantly, encourages us to tap into those emotions, working through them in a therapeutic way rather than pushing them to the side.
Art therapy is about so much more than completing a physical artwork. The real “result” is that each client becomes an artist in their own right, leaving with the tools they need to deal with their hardships in a calm, creative manner.