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Essence of Art Therapy

Lura Smedstad

Lura Smedstad

The American Art Therapy Association describes art therapy as "a mental health profession that uses the creative process of art making to improve and enhance the physical, mental and emotional well-being of individuals of all ages.”

It is based on the belief that the creative process involved in artistic self-expression helps people to resolve conflicts and problems, develop interpersonal skills, manage behavior, reduce stress, increase self-esteem and self-awareness and achieve insight.

Art therapy can be used to treat psychological distress such as anxiety or trauma. In many cases, it might be used in conjunction with other psychotherapy techniques such as group therapy or cognitive-behavioral therapy.

Some situations in which art therapy might be utilized include:

  • Children with learning disabilities
  • Adults experiencing severe stress
  • Children suffering from behavioral or social problems at school or at home
  • People experiencing health problems or challenges
  • Children or adults who have experienced a traumatic event

An art therapist may use a variety of art methods including drawing, painting, sculpture and collage with clients ranging from young children to the elderly. Clients who have experienced emotional trauma, physical violence, domestic abuse, anxiety, depression and other psychological issues can benefit from expressing themselves creatively.

How does an art therapy session differ from the average art class? While art therapy may involve learning skills or art techniques, the emphasis is generally first on developing and expressing images that come from inside the person. Art Therapy is about the process, not the product.

One Art Therapy Example

In a study conducted on a college campus with 84 student volunteers, researchers measured the effects on anxiety (pre-exam week) with exercises that introduced “free-form” coloring, complex circular mandalas and templates for plaid designs.

The results of the study clearly supported the hypothesis that coloring either the mandala or the plaid design for 20 minutes was even more effective at reducing anxiety levels than the free-form drawing sessions.

Why did this happen? Like the mandala, the plaid design was complex enough that it required a certain amount of attention to complete, but was not so complex that it required excessive thought or focus. Both designs provided structure. If anxiety is a type of “inner chaos”, then using the mandala and plaid designs provided a way for participants to “organize” their feelings.

By providing a safe environment and an array of art materials, clients at Twin Cities Therapy & Counseling can benefit from a creative process that enhances their counseling experience and becomes a way for them to develop methods for self-help and self-assurance.

Lura L. Smedstad, MS, LPC has combined the aspects of effective therapeutic art processes and a sound cognitive behavioral therapy approach to create a counseling practice that brings healing and support to both adult and teenage clients. She specializes in helping her clients alleviate the effects of trauma, anxiety, depression, grief and loss issues to establish workable, sustainable life goals and healthy relationships. Twin Cities Therapy & Counseling is located at 5851 Duluth St., Ste. 306, Golden Valley. For more information, call 612-202-8703 or visit

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