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What is Art Therapy?

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What is Art Therapy?

In a nutshell, art therapy uses the sensory elements made available through art making, movement and other creative processes as a means to facilitate communication and expression.

In other words, art therapy helps NDIS participants connect with and express thoughts and feelings that are difficult to communicate via conventional means (like speech) using images, colour, movement, touch, sound, and shape.

Does Art Therapy always involve visual arts like painting or drawing?

No, it doesn’t. The beauty of art therapy is that it can utilise all forms of artistic expression. If you enjoy drawing or painting and would like to involve these mediums in your sessions you certainly can, but at Crayons and Stuff we offer the opportunity to work across a range of forms, including the visual arts (e.g. painting, collage, pencils, pastels, Textas), poetry, narrative, clay, Sandplay, installations, photography, digital drawing, editing and animation, objects, textiles, movement, music, dance and drama.

Do I have to be good at art to be able to benefit from it?

Not at all. The purpose of art therapy is to help you find a way to express yourself and communicate your experiences. So, whilst there may be mediums that are better suited to expressing yourself than others, no art making skill or experience is required. As mentioned previously, art therapy doesn’t even need to involve visual arts like drawing or painting – even taking a walk through a park and identifying leaves or natural objects that represent your thoughts and emotions could be art therapy.

However, if learning to refine your artistic skills is a goal of yours, then many art therapists are also trained visual artists and will be able to facilitate this if you wish.

How does Art Therapy help an individual?

Sometimes it’s hard to make sense of our experiences, particularly if they are traumatic. By opening up discussions about someone’s artwork and the art making process, we can help participants gain insight and make sense of their experiences.

What qualifications does an art therapist need?

Art therapists are Mental Health Professionals that are sometimes, but not always, have specialist technical skills or training in a form of art. Under the NDIS, art therapy is classed as an Allied Health Provider. While many people choose to use the title of art/arts therapist, there are significant risks in seeing a practitioner who does not have adequate training or oversight/supervision of their work.

Arts therapists working as or for NDIS registered providers should meet the qualification standards required for professional membership of the Australian, New Zealand, and Asian Creative Arts Therapy Association (ANZACATA).

This usually requires a Master’s degree or equivalent. Some qualified arts therapists choose to register instead with the Counselling Associations, such as the Psychotherapy and Counselling Association of Australia (PACFA) or the Australian Counselling Association. Through any of these memberships, you have assurance about (and oversight of) the quality of our practice and our work is represented by the Allied Health Professional Association.

How much does an arts therapist cost? Can I use my NDIS funding for an Art Therapist?

A qualified art therapist is entitled to charge in accordance with the NDIS Price Guide, which allows up to $193.99 per hour (metro) and can be charged under the Other Therapy groups of funding. This is the same area as all the other therapy funding: OT, physio etc.

Note: If the participant is attending a group session, prices may be lower depending on the number of people in the session.

What NDIS budget do I use for art therapy?

Arts therapy is usually funded from the Improved Daily Living budget. However, some participants are eligible for Disability Related Health Supports which can be taken from the Core budget.

What NDIS goals can an art therapist help me reach?

​Arts therapy can support a very wide range of goals, such as:

  • health and wellbeing
  • self-care and self-management
  • daily living skills
  • community participation
  • social skills
  • confidence building
  • improved relationships

It can also support more specific goals, such as employment, education, or improved living arrangements.

It does this by assisting the participant to explore barriers to achieving their goals and/or generating new strategies for working towards them.

Arts therapists in early childhood will often focus on using a range of creative methods to support communication and/or emotional regulation.

The Crayons and Stuff practice model is flexible, person centred and emergent, which requires being responsive to the participant’s needs in each session. This provides a safe space in which they can explore and express the issues of most significance to them and can be done while achieving therapeutic outcomes and tangible steps towards their goals.

How do I know If I might benefit from an art therapist?

We are mental health professionals, so as a general rule of thumb if a qualified health practitioner like a GP has indicated you may benefit from seeing a Mental Health Practitioner like a Psychologist or a Counsellor then you may benefit from seeing an Art Therapist.

Some other ways to tell if Art Therapy may be beneficial:

  • You have mental health challenges including depression, anxiety, or a history of self-harm
  • You have a psychosocial disability
  • You struggle to express yourself and your emotions to others
  • You have difficulty understanding and/or processing your own emotions and experiences
  • You exhibit challenging behaviours or behaviours of concern
  • You are non-verbal or selectively mute
  • You are not benefiting from traditional talk therapy
  • You enjoy art

Are there certain disability types that benefit from art therapy more than others?

At Crayons and Stuff many of our participants have Autism, developmental delays or a psychosocial disability, but nearly anyone can benefit from art therapy. It is personal preference, rather than a disability type that determines who can benefit.

Is there an age limit?

No. Art Therapy can benefit people of all ages.

Is arts therapy an evidence-based practice?

Arts therapy meets the criteria for evidence-based practice, including through published and refereed literature and consensus of expert opinion. For example, in 2019 the World Health Organisation (WHO) confirmed the effectiveness of the arts and arts therapies for helping people experiencing mental illness at all stages of the life course and reported studies suggesting good cost–effectiveness. Both the WHO report and an Australian review of the efficacy of the Arts Therapies in 2013 found the effectiveness of creative arts therapies for a wide range of other conditions.

The WHO Report finds specifically that the beneficial impacts of arts therapy could be furthered through better acknowledging and acting on the growing evidence base (WHO Health Evidence Network Synthesis Report 2019). A core strength of Arts Therapy is that it responds to the needs of each person rather than a diagnostic or one-size-fits-all approach.

At Crayons and Stuff we place a high value on experiential evidence, where the participant (and, where appropriate, the carer) are supported sensitively to reflect on their own experience of the process and any changes they have observed.

This is consistent with the NDIS legislation, which recognises the lived experience of a participant and their carer as evidence of the effectiveness of a particular support, including for others in like circumstances. We are confident that by now the NDIS will have an incredible archive of testimonies to the benefits of arts therapy in the voices of NDIS participants and their carers.

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