Art Therapy – a legitimate profession.

The IKON Institute of Australia is a leading training organisation in the creative and complimentary therapies fields. IKON has steadily increased Art Therapy student intake by an average of 22% percent for the past three years, has a graduate employment rate of over 90%[1], and continues to generate strong word of mouth through the positive impact students and graduates make in people’s lives.

 

The knowledge gained through IKON courses is readily transferrable to many different therapeutic, mental health and counselling environments. Our graduates apply their learning in the fields of counselling, community services, health and teaching, and within private practice, government and non-government organisations.

 

IKON delivers a suite of creative therapies qualifications. Yet, this industry has recently received increasing media attention, raising questions about its effectiveness and the employability of graduates.

 

Perhaps there is a lack of knowledge and understanding about what Art Therapy is, and what it isn’t. Some of this misunderstanding may stem from the title “Art Therapy” itself, which makes people think that art itself is therapeutic, rather than understanding how Art Therapists use art as a tool in psychotherapy.

 

Some countries and governing organisations are exploring the use of alternative titles, such as Art Therapy Counselling or Arts Psychotherapy, to help avoid this confusion. In Australia, the Australian Creative Arts Therapies Association[2] (ACATA) is the primary organisation for Creative Arts Therapies. ACATA provides professional standards, networking, publications, promotion and advocacy. The Australian and New Zealand Arts Therapy Association[3] (ANZATA) is the professional body that represents arts therapists in Australia, New Zealand and Singapore. ANZATA’s primary role is advocacy and ensuring that training and practice of arts therapies in these countries meets the highest international standards.  These professional bodies, along with the ACA (Australian Counselling Association) and PACFA (Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia) develop ethical, professional, and educational standards for the profession and provide accreditation for Art Therapy coursework.
Whatever the title, the field of Art Therapy is a recognised mental health profession that is closely related to psychology, social work and other psychotherapies.  Art Therapy utilises various art modalities to help clients and patients better express and understand themselves, communicate with others, and remove the barriers that stop them from connecting to the world around them. The practice of Art Therapy is grounded in empirical evidence and supported by current and emerging research.

 

Art Therapy graduates receive extensive training in mental health, counselling practices and psychotherapy, which enables the application of the visual arts and creative process to occur within a therapeutic relationship.  Art Therapy training in Australia is available through both the VET and Higher Education sector, with courses ranging from Advanced Diplomas up to Phd level. Melbourne University has recently established a Creative Arts Therapy Research Unit in response to the need for further research.

 

Research supports Art Therapy’s profound impact in the areas of mental health, behavior and mood management, stress reduction, depression, cognitive improvements, grief work, family issues, addiction, trauma and chronic pain management.  A growing body of evidence[4] shared in academic literature and research supports the formal implementation of the creative arts as a therapeutic tool for health needs.

 

Numerous studies and academic reviews have demonstrated that utilising arts therapies in health settings can lead to greater effectiveness and efficiency in healthcare delivery. Music engagement, visual arts therapy, movement-based creative expression and expressive writing have positive impacts for patients, including quicker recovery and improved coping skills. In the UK, Arts programs are routinely being integrated into healthcare programs. A 2007 report by the Department of Health stated, “arts and health initiatives are delivering real and measurable benefits across a wide range of priority areas for health, and can enable the Department and NHS to contribute to key wider Government initiatives[5].”

 

Neuroscience research is now adding to the strong evidence base supporting the efficacy of Art Therapy in mental health treatment. Art Therapy may be particularly effective in working with those suffering from trauma and PTSD. Art Therapists have helped children cope with the trauma of the Fukushima nuclear disaster[6] and the great eastern Japan earthquake[7], provided cross-cultural grief support for child survivors of the Sri Lankan Tsunami[8] , and helped Syrian refugees process trauma and regain hope[9].

 

In the United States, Art Therapists have become commonplace in Veteran’s hospitals, medical centers, and psychiatric treatment programs, where they serve as an integral part of the care team[10]. In Australia, Art Therapy is becoming a key service in a range of fields. Some of these include:

 

  1. Aged care services, particularly working with people with dementia: Given the projected increase in the people with dementia, this alone will ensure Art Therapists have good employment prospects.
  2. Disaster recovery: Art Therapists were employed to provide both individual and family therapy as well as community recovery in the Victorian bushfires, Christchurch earthquakes, and other climate induced disasters around the world. Environmental disasters are predicted to increase in frequency and magnitude in response to climate change so professional art therapists will be required in increasing numbers.
  3. People who have disabilities: The NIDS will provide increasing opportunities for Arts Therapists, including the 30% of NDIS participants who have with Autism Spectrum Disorders[11].
  4. Mental Health: Art Therapists are needed to provide services to people with depression and other mental health issues, including males aged 15-44 whose highest risk of death is from suicide[12].
  5. Addiction: Alternative approaches are needed to strengthen and support families coping with illicit drug use and addiction[13].
  6. Schools: Art Therapists promote positive mental health initiatives in schools while combating bullying and negative emotional and social development[14].

 

Consider that each year, approximately one in every five Australians will experience a mental illness.  Of the 16 million Australians aged 16–85 years, almost half (45% or 7.3 million) have experienced a mental disorder at some point in their life. The annual cost of mental illness in Australia has been estimated at $20 billion. In 2003, mental disorders were identified as the leading cause of healthy years of life lost due to disability. Mental disorders such as major depression, psychotic illnesses and eating disorders are associated with an increased risk of suicide especially after discharge from hospital or when treatment has been reduced.

 

With these alarming statistics, it is clear that mental health is a critical issue in our country. Yet, mental health treatment is not a one size fits all approach. We need to be exploring and encouraging a wide range of evidence-based mental health supports and treatments.  Art Therapy is one of these approaches.

 

[1] Graduate destination survey 2016 – Adv. Dip of Transpersonal Art Therapy graduates  [2] http://acata.org.au/about-us/  [3] https://www.anzata.org/About  [4]Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, 27(3), 2010  American Journal of Public Health, Vol 100, No.2, 2010  Health Policy Research Institute Evidence Brief, No. 4, 2012  Canadian Journal of Counselling and Psychotherapy, Vol. 45 No. 2, 2011  Psychology Today, Art Therapy and Counselling, Cathy Malchiodi  [5] http://www.artshealthandwellbeing.org.uk/what-is-arts-in-health  [6] http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/cnainsider/healing-art-for-fukushima/2990722  [7]http://www.lasalle.edu.sg/events/art-therapy-as-social-action-in-japan-by-kazutaka-shibasaki/  [8] http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/07421656.2007.10129475  [9] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/syrian-refugees-art-therapy_us_56aa6784e4b05e4e3703a5d0  [10] http://arttherapy.org  [11] http://www.a4.org.au/prevalence2015  [12] http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/mf/3303.0  [13] http://www.aihw.gov.au/alcohol-and-other-drugs/aodts/  [14] http://www.enseceurope.org/journal/Papers/ENSECV3I2P2.pdf