List Of 15 Art Therapy Types (With Definition And FAQs)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 27 July 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Art therapy is a treatment approach that integrates psychotherapeutic techniques with the creative process to improve well-being. It involves visual art-related exercises from sketching and colouring to sculpting and moulding. If you are planning a career in art therapy, knowing about the different types of art therapy can help you make an informed decision. In this article, we discuss 15 art therapy types and answer three frequently asked questions on this topic.

What Are Art Therapy Types?

Art therapy types are forms of psychotherapy that encourage free self-expression through art, used as a remedial or diagnostic activity. In this process, licensed professionals trained in both therapy and art conduct sessions with patients of almost all ages, where the patient explores their feelings and expresses themselves through art. The therapist then interprets the patient's unfiltered responses as expressed in their art to promote mental health and well-being. The theory behind art therapy suggests that forms of artistic expression such as drawing, colouring, painting and sculpting can help individuals express their feelings.

15 Different Art Therapy Types

There are various art therapies that might suit a patient's specific requirements. The most common forms of art therapy use simple tools and require little planning and can work in individual or group settings depending on the preference of the patient. Here are the 15 types of art therapy that can prove beneficial to patients:

1. Sketching

Patients can use drawing therapy to relax by illustrating pent-up emotions and ideas. Using a writing tool like a pencil, crayon, pastel, charcoal or pen, patients can draw simple or complex shapes on different surfaces. This type of therapy is useful because it offers freedom and requires minimum supervision.

Related: Psychologist Vs. Therapist: Definition And Differences

2. Colouring

Patients can use colours to fill in sketches in adult colouring books as art therapy. Colouring can relax the fear centre of the brain, the amygdala. Focusing on the complex structure of the colouring page can help put the mind into a meditative state. This promotes mindfulness and quietness, which reduces the thoughts of a restless mind and allows it to unwind and relax.

3. Painting

Painting involves using blank canvases, paintbrushes and different types of paint, like watercolours, acrylic paints or spray paints to contrast and manipulate images. Painting allows patients to use fluid motions to drip, smear or streak liquid paint across a surface. As painting supplies are less controllable, this art form may require additional training in the basics of painting.

Related: What Are Painting Skills? (Examples And How To Develop Them)

4. Creating mandalas

Mandalas, meaning circles in Sanskrit, are sacred symbols used for meditation, prayer, healing and art therapy for both adults and children. Making mandalas is a therapeutic and symbolic activity that stimulates creativity and is a way to release emotional blockages. Creating mandalas as a form of art therapy can reduce anxiety, tension and overall stress.

5. Doodling and scribbling

Scribbling or doodling, like drawing, uses a writing tool and a plain surface, like paper or a marker board, to create shapes. It involves making lines without a specific idea for a picture. Scribbling can help patients calm their thoughts and relieve stress. It also allows more freedom and less pressure to create a visually pleasing piece of art, making it a very expressive form.

6. Finger painting

Finger painting is a technique of spreading paint on paper and creating images with fingers. It can be an excellent stress reliever. The experience of using fingers to create something fresh and unique can be emotionally and psychologically uplifting. Whether done by kids or adults, finger painting is a highly engaging and involving activity that improves concentration for all.

7. Photography

Photography typically only requires a camera, but patients may choose to use photo editing software to further enhance their photos. With a phone or other type of camera, patients can take pictures of unique moments of their lives which capture their perspectives of the world, recreate memories or help them think more deeply about their environment.

Related: What Are Photography Skills And How Can You Improve Them?

8. Making collages

Collages involve using existing photos and other art supplies, such as scissors, glue, paper, tape or poster board to bring together visual elements and explore their commonalities. Making collages can benefit patients by relieving the pressure to be skilled in art techniques, make artistic decisions or create a completely original piece of art. While making a collage, patients focus more on construction and less on invention, to create images that provide a fresh look into their inner life.

9. Sculpting

Sculpting involves shaping or carving a figure out of a mouldable or hard material. As a tactile art form, sculpting can give patients the opportunity to work in a three-dimensional (3D) medium. Sculpting might help improve psychological attributes such as mental state, attention, flow, corporeal memory, self-reliance, self-esteem and mood of an individual.

Related: Online Fine Arts Courses (Skills And Career Opportunities)

10. Carving

Cutting a shape or pattern into a block of wood or stone or other material by systematically scraping away excess material takes patience and precision. This helps carving have a relaxing effect and to aid concentration. Patients can use tools like knives, gouges and chisels to create 3D figurines or textured designs. Carving usually takes more time and effort and requires more commitment than other art forms, which is why it can be a substantial source of satisfaction and boost of confidence for the right patient.

11. Moulding clay

Patients who enjoy using their hands to feel textures can consider using modelling clay as art therapy. Modelling clay uses the heat from a person's hands to soften and mould the colourful clay into various shapes. Patients can also use sculpting instruments with pointed or scooped ends to create designs in their clay. This type of art is useful for patients to see and feel their pieces from different perspectives.

Related: How To Write An Occupational Therapy Assistant Resume

12. Making cards

Making a greeting card for a specific occasion or on a particular theme engages the creative functions of the mind. It combines several art forms, from doodling and colouring to painting and crafting. For patients, card-making can offer endless potential for creative expression and prove to be a highly engaging activity that elevates mood and increases self-confidence.

13. Crafts

Crafting is the skill of making a physical object with bare hands. It gives the patient something to create with their hands while they talk. Regardless of the medium, crafting can reduce stress, bolster mood and improve self-confidence. In addition, crafting also improves mental agility, enhances gross and fine motor movements, decreases cognitive decline and protects the brain from damage caused by ageing.

Related: Top Jobs In The Arts (With Duties And Earning Potential)

14. Using textiles

Patients who cannot use art supplies that require refined motor skills can instead create or enhance textiles like clothing, accessories and toys to express themselves. Textiles add a sensory aspect to creating art. Activities like stitching, knitting, weaving, embroidery or crocheting can improve concentration and help patients work through their emotions. These art forms allow patients to solidify their identities by creating individual pieces they can wear proudly.

15. Digital art

The scope of digital art can extend from manipulating photos to more artistic ventures involving graphic design, visual arts and video editing software. Using digital art in therapy can help patients try various art styles and techniques in one place. This type of art therapy is best suited for patients who are proficient in modern technology. The digital art may require learning to use a computer program to create art, but it also offers patients ample flexibility and options to explore while designing or editing.

FAQs About Art Therapy

Learn more about art therapy through these commonly asked questions:

Is it necessary to be talented in arts to do art therapy?

Artistic skills are not required for art therapy. The aim of art therapy is not to create artwork, but to use art to find associations between the patient's creative choices and their inner life to ultimately work through the patient's issues and improve their well-being. While being skilled in arts is not always necessary, having an interest in art is always beneficial.

Related: 13 Essential Fine Artist Skills (With Tips To Improve Them)

Which conditions can benefit from art therapy?

Art therapy can be useful in treating a variety of conditions, including anxiety, depression, addiction, trauma, ageing-related issues, stress, eating disorders, emotional difficulties and family or relationship problems. It can also prove beneficial for any other mental health concerns related to illnesses or medical treatments and mental health conditions of childhood, particularly for children who have difficulty in verbal communication. People with attention deficit hyperactivity, psychosocial issues, compassion fatigue, anorexia, bulimia, dementia, autism, schizophrenia and cognitive impairments can also benefit from art therapy.

Related: Guide: How To List Occupational Therapist Resume Skills

How long does art therapy take to be effective?

The therapeutic process can range from eight to 15 weeks to show effects. You can expect weekly art therapy sessions to last between 30 to 60 minutes. The length and number of sessions can vary, depending on the specific requirements of the patient.

Explore more articles