Art therapy is the use of art to assist individuals in the acts of emotional growth and healing. Proponents of the use of art therapy in schools believe that this practice allows art therapists to encourage emotional growth in students who may suffer from emotional or social disorders. This therapy can also be used with students who have learning disorders.
The practice of art therapy in schools is based on the notion that children's psychosocial development is mirrored in the art they create. For example, children 18 months of age often begin scribbling. This occurs during the stage in which children develop an awareness of patterns. This is also the stage when hand-eye coordination develops. Likewise, children between the ages of seven and nine begin drawing in the schematic stage. In this stage, they are able to combine the images they see with images or ideas that they are thinking.
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One potential use of including art therapy in schools is that it allows an art therapist to work with students with whom teachers may have trouble communicating. These may be students who suffer from learning disabilities, behavioral disorders, or emotional issues. The therapist practices art therapy with children who may have these disorders, allowing them modes of communication that are not solely verbal. In this sense, art therapy acts as an expressive therapy.
Another beneficial use of having art therapy in schools is that it allows art therapists to consult faculty members and parents regarding a child's mental and emotional health. Drawing is considered to be an act that comes naturally to most children. For this reason, they are less likely to find this mode of communication intimidating. Children undergoing art therapy may express certain thoughts, problems, and concerns that would otherwise go unsaid. The art therapist can use these communications to advise teachers and parents how to best care for or address the child.
When an art therapist practices in schools, he or she is also able to assist in resolving conflicts that a troubled child may have with classmates, teachers, or family members. Through the use of art therapy, the therapist may consult parents on how to best communicate issues such as loss or separation with a child. The therapist may also use information obtained from the expressive therapy to help the child develop better social skills and coping mechanisms.
It is common to find art therapy in public schools and especially in elementary schools. This practice may also be found in universities and clinics. Some art therapists work with school age children in private practices.