Art Therapy Techniques

How is art therapy used? Art therapy merges psychotherapy and creative media to provide adults and children with an outlet for self-expression. Therapists use art therapy techniques in schools, hospitals, and private practices to help people cope with trauma, depression, illness, and physical and mental disabilities. Painting, drawing, sculpting, and digital media provide positive mental and physical benefits that allow patients to heal.


Photography offers a means of expression for people of various abilities. Art therapists use photography to help patients tap into their feelings or recall painful experiences. Through photography, patients can capture their lives in intimate ways that they may not wish to convey verbally. Photography can also help wheelchair-bound patients or children with autism realize their abilities beyond their physical or mental limitations. Counselors in group therapy sessions may ask patients to share images with others for an open discussion.


Creating wood, clay, metal, and stone sculptures offers mental health benefits. Sculpture in art therapy can help patients mold better self-awareness and boost their well-being. Sculpting classes with dementia patients can boost concentration, improve self-esteem, and increase overall happiness.

During a sculpture class, art therapists may have patients work in a group to discuss their mood before they work. At the end of the project, their art may go on display for the patients' families and the public. Counselors also use family sculpting exercises, where members of a family or a couple sculpt to uncover repressed feelings and unhealthy dynamics.

Mask Making

Mask making helps patients in art therapy uncover repressed elements of themselves. People wear psychological masks as a source of protection. Patients can learn to unmask their feelings and openly communicate traumatic events by creating masks and discussing their artistic process with a therapist.

Creating an artistic mask also allows patients to delve into different parts of their persona and achieve greater self-awareness. Therapists use mask making art therapy to help patients from many different backgrounds, including survivors of abuse and veterans with post-traumatic stress syndrome.


Painting provides therapeutic benefits and an emotional release for patients. The act of painting relaxes patients and allows them to simply concentrate on creating a beautiful piece of art.

Art therapists use painting in their sessions to create open communication among patients. Painting enables patients to emotionally heal from physical and mental trauma. Patients either paint with minimal verbal communication or follow verbal cues. A professional using art therapy techniques may prompt patients to paint their emotions or paint a picture of a sad moment in their life. The colors, strokes, and images a patient creates on the canvas often speak louder than words.


Community groups coping with historical wrongs and survivors of trauma have found solace in creating quilts and textiles. The act of creating a shared textile project gives survivors a voice to tell their story. Art therapists use sewing, weaving, knitting, and beading in art therapy.

Many patients have textile skills, so this medium proves effective in art therapy. The repetitive and rhythmic activities of creating textiles help people focus and stimulate different parts of the brain. Additionally, the process of sewing invigorates people and helps them hone a practical and creative talent.

Digital Art

The growing availability of digital technology has made digital art useful in therapy. The medium allows patients to use familiar technology to create digital art projects that they can easily share with others.

Counselors have patients create films, illustrations, animations, and digital collages in the therapy process. Several easily accessible tools — including cell phones, computers, tablets, and apps — allow patients to create art projects. Digital media allow patients with limited physical abilities to paint, draw, and create shareable art. These art therapy techniques help patients gain greater self-esteem, a feeling of empowerment, and a sense of control.


Poetry, journals, fiction, and other expressive writing can help patients express feelings and emotions that they cannot verbally convey to a therapist. Patients can journal to practice self-reflection and find greater self-awareness.

Counselors may use creative writing prompts in tandem with visual arts projects such as paintings or drawings. Writing art therapy techniques include asking patients to make lists of their feelings attached to a drawing or to complete a sentence about their collage. Therapists also conduct sessions with free writing exercises. The process of writing allows patients with strong verbal skills to see connections between their experiences, feelings, and actions.

Art Therapy Program Overview
FIND A PROGRAM is an advertising-supported site. Featured programs and school search results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other information published on this site.