As a mental health profession, art therapy is employed in many clinical settings with diverse populations. Art therapy can be found in non-clinical settings as well, such as in art studios and in workshops that focus on creativity development. Closely related in practice to marriage and family therapists, many art therapists are certified additionally as MFTs. Art therapists work with children, adolescents, and adults and provide services to individuals, couples, families, groups, and communities.
According to the American Art Therapy Association, art therapy is based on the belief that the creative process of art is both healing and life-enhancing. Art therapists use the creative process and the issues that come up during art therapy to help their clients increase insight and judgment, cope better with stress, work through traumatic experiences, increase cognitive abilities, have better relationships with family and friends, and to just be able to enjoy the life-affirming pleasures of the creative experience. The term art therapist is reserved for those that are professionals trained in both art and therapy and hold a master's degree in art therapy.
In this assessment, a person is asked to select a card from a deck with different mandalas; designs enclosed in a geometric shape, and then must choose a color from a set of colored cards (Malchiodi 1998). The person is then asked to draw the mandala from the card they choose with an oil pastel of the color of their choice (Malchiodi 1998). The artist is then asked to explain if there were any meanings, experiences, or related information related to the mandala they drew (Malchiodi 1998). This test is based on the beliefs of Joan Kellogg, who sees a recurring correlation between the images, pattern and shapes in the mandalas that people draw and the personalities of the artists (Malchiodi 1998). This test assesses and gives clues to a person's psychological progressions and their current psychological condition (Malchiodi 1998). The mandala originates in Buddhism; its connections with spirituality help us to see links with transpersonal art.
In this assessment, the patient is asked to draw a picture with a house, a tree, and a person in it (Malchiodi 1998). After the patient has finished the drawing, the therapist asks questions like, "How old is the person in your drawing? What is he or she doing? What is the house made of? What is the weather in this picture?" (Malchiodi 1998). This is a projective assessment and the house, the tree, and person in the drawing represent different aspects of the artist and the way the artist feels about him or herself (Malchiodi 1998).
In the United States, art therapists may become Registered (ATR) and Board Certified (ATR-BC). For more information on these credentials, art therapists in the US should contact the Art Therapy Credentials Board (ATCB) at www.atcb.org. A Code of Professional Practice, a 17 page document summarizing the standards of practice for professional art therapists. The ATCB Code of Professional Practice is comprised of five main categories; General Ethical Principles, Independent Practitioner, Eligibility for Credentials, Standards of Conduct, and Disciplinary Procedures (ATCB 2005).
One topic covered in this section describes the responsibility art therapist have to their patients (ATCB 2005). According to the ATCB, art therapists must strive to advance the wellness of their clients, respect the rights of the client, and make sure they are providing a useful service (2005). They cannot discriminate against patient whatsoever, and may never desert or neglect patients receiving therapy (2005). Art therapist must fully explain to their patients what their expectations of the patients will be at the outset of the professional relationship between the two (ATCB 2005). Art therapists should continue therapy with a patient only if the client is benefiting from the therapy (ATCB 2005). It's against the principles established by the ATCB for art therapist to have patients only for financial reasons (ATCB 2005).
Another topic of this section discuses the competency and integrity art therapist must possess (ATCB 2005). The ATCB states art therapist must be professionally proficient and have integrity (2005). Art therapist must keep up dated on new developments in art therapy. They are only supposed to treat cases in which they are qualified as established by their training, education, and experience (ATCB 2005). They are not allowed to treat patients currently seeing another therapist without the other therapist's permission (ATCB 2005). Art therapist must observe patient confidentiality (ATCB 2005).
Other topics covered in this section discuss other responsibilities of art therapists. This responsibilities include, “responsibility to students and supervisees, responsibility to research participants, responsibility to the profession” (ATCB 2005). This section also establishes the rules by which art therapists must follow when making financial arrangements and when they chose to advertise their service (ATCB 2005)
Independent practitioners must provide a safe and functional environment to conduct art therapy sessions (ATCB 2005). According to ATCB, "this includes but is not limited to: proper ventilation, adequate lighting, access to water supply, knowledge of hazards or toxicity of art materials and the effort need to safeguard the health of clients, storage space for art projects and secured areas for any hazardous materials, monitored use of sharp objects, allowance for privacy and confidentiality, and compliance with any other health and safety requirements according to state and federal agencies which regulate comparable businesses" (2005).
This section also establishes the standards for independent practitioners to follow when dealing with financial arrangements (ATCB 2005). Basically it states that the art therapist must provide a straight forward contract to the payer of the therapy sessions (ATCB 2005). It also states that the art therapist must not deceive the payers or exploit clients financially (ATCB 2005).
The last topics this section sets standards for address treatment planning and documentation (ATCB 2005). Art therapists must provide a treatment plan that assists the patients to reach or maintain the highest level of quality of life and functioning (ATCB 2005). This involves using the clients’ strengths to help them reach their goals and address their needs (ATCB 2005). Art therapists are also required to record and take notes that reflect the proceedings of the events of therapy sessions (ATCB 2005). According to ATCB, the following is the minimum of which must be documented: “the current goals of any treatment plan, verbal content of art therapy sessions relevant to client behavior and goals, artistic expression relevant to client behavior and goals, changes (or lack of change) in affect, thought process, and behavior, suicidal or homicidal intent or ideation” (2005) and a summary of the "clients response to treatment and future treatment recommendations" (2005).
Art therapists are not permitted to disclose information about the clients’ therapy sessions. This includes “all verbal and/or artistic expression occurring within a client-therapist relationship” (ATCB 2005). Art therapist are only allowed to release confidential information if they have explicit written consent by the patient of if the therapist has reason to believe the patient needs immediate help to address a severe danger to the patients life (ATCB 2005). Also, therapists are not allowed to publish or display any of the patients work without the expressed written consent of the patient (ATCB 2005).
The standards of a professional relationship between art therapists and clients are covered in this section. Within a professional relationship, art therapists are banned from engaging in exploitative relationships with current and former patients, students, inters trainees, supervisors, or co-workers (ATCB 2005). The ATCB defines an exploitative relationship as anything involving sexual intimacy, romance, or borrowing or loaning money (ATCB 2005). Within professional relationships, therapists are to do what they feel is best in the clients interest, shall not advance a professional relationship for their own benefit, and shall not steer their patients in the wrong direction (ATCB 2005).
The breaking of any of the standards established in this section is grounds for discipline (ATCB 2005).