Why Art Therapy?

Why art therapy? What is art therapy? I come across many people who ask what I do, or what I studied, and when I tell them I am an art therapist they are regularly unsure of what that means.

This post will clarify what art therapy is (and isn’t) and I’ll make a case for why, if you’re considering seeking help, art therapy could be for you.

Art therapy can’t be discussed without acknowledging the fact that creativity has been a part of the human experience for millenia. From ancient indigenous symbolism and artwork as a long and important cultural expression, to ancient Pompeii where we have artwork and graffiti preserved by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, humans have used the creative tools at their disposal to communicate and explore ideas for a looong time. This is still true of today: we find ourselves with the same ability and desire to weave creativity and expression into our daily lives.

The field of art therapy is a bit of a hybrid between the field of visual arts and psychology. It emerged in the 1940’s in UK and USA, and didn’t properly arrive in Australia as a ‘recognised’ field with a governing body until the late 1980’s. The governing body for art therapists in Australia, New Zealand and Asia is called ANZACATA, and there is much more information for your perusal about art therapy and the organisation here

Some things you may not know about art therapy:

  1. Art therapists undergo postgraduate training to be able to practice and register.

  2. Art therapy is not about how skilled you are at art (stick people are fine, I promise). It’s about meeting your therapeutic goals and addressing your concerns with a professional, and art materials are available and explored as an aide to meeting your goals. If you’ve ever had the experience that words might not be enough to capture your thoughts- maybe art therapy is right for you.

  3. Art therapy can look very different in a variety of settings, and depending on what the goals are. There is one-on-one art therapy, art therapy in groups, art therapy in open studio settings, in hospitals, or private practice, just for starters.

  4. Art therapy can be effective for many different people- children, people who struggle to communicate verbally, the elderly, those who have experienced trauma, adolescents struggling with identity issues, people who might benefit from another outlet besides talking, or anyone who needs some assistance in expressing themselves and working through issues.

  5. Art therapists don’t interpret or analyse your work, or read your mind. This is one aspect people commonly ask about, and I think the assumption is based on stereotypical depictions of psychoanalysis in pop culture. The reason art therapists don’t interpret your work is because different symbols and creative expressions are personal and could mean many different things. The job of the art therapist is to be with you in the process, to be curious, and to support you and help you meet the goals you have set out together.

Images used with permission. Artist: Elizabeth Bird.

Art therapy doesn’t offer a magical fix to issues. It provides a place where you can safely express yourself and perhaps even surprise yourself.

As an art therapist, I love the use of metaphor and symbolism to explain and describe emotions and experiences. I love the use of narrative and storytelling as a way to frame and understand experiences. I love giving people an outlet and being part of their journey. Creativity has always been part of my own journey and I believe in it’s qualities to take us as humans to a place outside of ourselves.

If after reading this you still have questions about art therapy, please feel free to get in touch. I’d love to hear from you!

I am moving into the private practice space and you can book in for an art therapy session with me here (Thursdays only): 07 3291 5963 or visit Gateway Counselling website for more info: https://gatewaybaptist.com.au/care/counselling-centre/

Storytelling Saturday: Which Universe Should I Choose?

Hey all!

I’m starting up a new thing in 2019: Storytelling Saturday. The idea behind this came to me when i realised how many original illustrations I have, sitting in folders in storage. Rather than put continual pressure on myself to make new art, I realised all of my previous drawings could add value to it’s viewer and I’ve drawn about a lot of topics that are probably worth sharing again for those who have never seen them.

Each Saturday I will choose one drawing to reflect on and write about.

This one is about decision making and ‘shoulding’ on yourself.

I had a lecturer at uni once who often talked about how people experiencing depression and/or anxiety often experience a lot of ‘should’ thoughts. She calling it ‘shoulding on yourself’

Here’s some examples:

‘I shouldn’t feel like this, my life is good’

‘i should be happy’

‘I should get a ‘proper’ job because everyone else my age is doing so well’

‘I should do what makes my parents happy’

‘I should stop worrying so much, but I can’t’

‘I should be able to do _____…everyone else has no trouble doing that”

This picture deals with some shoulds, from personal experience.

‘Don’t Stress, Just Nap’ 2013 illustration

‘Don’t Stress, Just Nap’ 2013 illustration

I drew it in 2013, when i was about 19, and quite between two different worlds. I was struggling to choose which door to go through.

One door represented playfulness, childlike-ness, perhaps immaturity or foolishness, perhaps going out and doing irresponsible things: perhaps wanting to dodge responsibility. I have no comment on whether that door was ‘good’ or ‘bad’ it just was.

The other door represented different shoulds: my projected world of ‘grown up’ decisions which I viewed as banal, uninteresting, and hollow. This world seemed to consist mostly of making money, being highly responsible, and boring. The girl walking through that door would say things like ‘I should get a stable job to pay the bills’ or ‘I should choose convention because it’s safe’

In the drawing I ask the little maintenance man who is painting the walls which universe or door to go into. He was (and is) wise, and always knows how to help me.

His response was: ‘Don’t Stress, Just Nap’ In other words: Stop shoulding all over yourself, you have some time, you can be both playful and responsible, you don’t have to make it such a dichotomous choice right now.

In hindsight, I can also see that choosing either door because i felt I ‘should’ wouldn’t have lead to fulfilment. Making decisions out of some misguided obligation or sense of duty can never lead to true contentment.

‘Shoulds’ hold you to ransom and never let you make choices out of freedom.

Also, if you aren’t ready to walk through a particular door, you just aren’t ready, and that is okay too.

I’m glad I could rest in the ‘waiting room:’ the room designed for me that was void of both recklessness and the empty pursuit of stability. The maintenance man there is always better company than the other choices I was staring down.

The different doors still pop up from time to time and I think we are continually faced with those kind of decisions. I should go through this one, shouldn’t I? Which universe should I choose?

I think if I asked again today, the answer would be: Choose the universe that you can be yourself in. Choose the one you are ready for.

Watercolour Places

Travelling is good for the soul. I’ve had the best time in my travels and tried to be ‘in the moment’ while also capturing the vibe of each place before I left it.

Here are some of the places I managed to paint:

-London telephone booth

-Golden Fleece Pub York (This skeleton was sitting all by himself)


Liverpool (Lambananas, The Cavern Club, so many museums, the Beatles hometown, nicest people i’ve ever met, and the best accent)


--Edinburgh Writers Museum

-Amsterdam- it snowed briefly!

-My relatives in Holland took me to a cheese shop

-East Berlin traffic man

-Belfast Peace Wall (SUPER interesting to learn the history of the troubles, and I got to sign the wall)

-Glasgow, Duke of Wellington Statue

-Edinburgh Castle


-Cliffs of Moher

Being away from Australia made me realise these main things: 1. Our fruit is the BEST. I missed it. 2. I can live without the QLD heat. For sure. 3. We have so much wide open SPACE. Even in our cities we have trees everywhere and wide roads and big houses. I’ve always taken that for granted.