Image from the 8 month project with the Art Group of Park Avenue Disability Resource
The British Association of Art Therapists (BAAT) defines art therapy as “a form of
psychotherapy that uses art media as its primary mode of communication.” however
as Diane Waller, in her book, Towards a European Art Therapy, illustrates, there
are significant problems in trying to define Art Therapy. This essay briefly explores
In 1997 the HM Prison Service restrictively defined Art Therapy in prisons as “a
radical ways of using the arts as rehabilitative” but in contrast to this the NHS
openly suggests it is, “a secure environment and a variety of basic art materials…
for clients who cannot speak, the art work itself provides a valuable means of communication.”
However from the academic view point, Edith Kramer emphasises it as “a search for
inner truth”. If public organisations can not agree on what it is, or its boundaries,
we can understand the difficulty clients have and therefore their possible mistrust.
What is notable is the difficulty to describe what Art Therapy is without involving
what it does and how it functions. Gerry McNeilly explains art therapy entirely in
the application of his work. Clearly it is problematic to split the theoretical,
the practical and the linguistic, and this gives us clues as to the function and
foundation of the therapy itself.
We could assume that it is easier look at art therapy from the perspective of what
it is not, but this is not so. There is general consensus on the visual until we
begin to look outside British interpretations. There are continuing arguments over
the use of direction for clients. There are lingering queries over the important
of the verbal and also for the use of art therapy in preventative and acute management.
Consensus is complicated.
The primary difficulty in questioning what art therapy is, is rooted in the impossibility
of defining what art or therapy are individually. Joining this is the impossibility
of defining the mind, or the damaged mind, which art therapy is designed to work
with. Perhaps to deal with the intangible mind, we need an indefinable tool.
We may not ever be able to grasp a concrete meaning of art therapy but this does
not limit us from making use of it. Definitions place boundaries and limitations
on adaptability and application, and it is important that art therapy has neither
of these restrictions.
2. Diane Waller. Towards A European Art Therapy. p 47.
3. Guidelines for Art Therapists Working in Prisons. Standing Committee On the Arts
in Prisons 1997. 2.2.1.
5. Edith Kramer. Art as Therapy. P17. 6. Gerry McNeilly. Group Analytic Art Therapy.
p13. 7. Diane Waller. Towards A European Art Therapy. p 47. 8. Diane Waller & Andrea
Gilroy. Art Therapy A Handbook. p10. Diane Waller discusses the attention given to
the idea of art therapy as preventative as well as rehabilitative as “not well developed”
but of interest, and that this issue begins to be explored in the spring edition
of Inscape 1988.
Diane Waller. Towards A European Art Therapy. Open University Press. 1998 http://www.baat.org/art_therapy.html Gerry
McNeilly. Group Analytic Art Therapy. Jessica Kingsley Publishers. 2006 Guidelines
for Art Therapists Working in Prisons. Standing Committee On the Arts in Prisons
1997 http://www.nhscareers.nhs.uk/details/Default.aspx?Id=287 Diane Waller & Andrea
Gilroy. Art Therapy A Handbook. Open University Press. 1992 Edith Kramer. Art as Therapy.
Jessica Kingsley Publishers. 2000