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Prepared by:
Marinel June S. Paler
There are many documented benefits of employing
art as a part of a treatment plan with clients.
The following list summarizes specific advantages
of art in counseling :

Taps the unconscious and helps individuals express covert conflicts,
bringing into awareness thoughts and feelings that were previously hidden
(Liebmann, 1990).

Acts as a metaphor for the conflicts, emotions, and situations experienced
by clients (Ulak & Cummings, 1997).

Assists people in picturing themselves or their situations in a concrete,
objectified manner (Rubin, 2001).


Acts as a bridge between the counselor and the client, especially when the subject
matter is too embarrassing or difficult to talk about, such as family violence and
abuse (Brooke, 1995; Liebmann, 1990; Trowbridge, 1995).

Creates a visible trail, provides a tangible record, and allows clients and counselors
to review a series of past sessions and note development and change (Ganim, 2000;
Liebmann, 1990).

Inspires and helps people become more connected with the transcendent and
growth sides of their personalities (Mills & Crowley, 1986).

Provides a process that is energy enhancing (Kahn, 1999); art gets clients “doing”
rather than thinking and therefore can be more activating than verbal counseling
(France & Allen, 1997).

Can easily be combined with other expressive arts such as music, movement,
creative writing, and imagery (McNiff, 1997)

The key to successfully employing art in counseling is to
understand the goals of each stage of the process and then
carefully select art directives that are consistent with the process
and needs of the client (Kahn, 1999).

With others, it may help with the exploration of the client’s world,
issues, and concerns.

Counselors may select art directives to confront inconsistencies in
thoughts and behaviors, develop and narrow options, move a client
to action, or help with termination of the therapeutic relationship.

Although much of art therapy is grounded in psychodynamic
theory, numerous methods have evolved that can be integrated
into different theoretical approaches to counseling (Kahn, 1999).


As with all interventions, it is important for the counselor to
establish a relation- ship with the client based on genuineness,
empathy, and positive regard. Counselors can ensure a reluctant
client that the experience is not about artistic ability but, in- stead,
is an opportunity for self-exploration using a different medium
than words. If a client continues to resist, it should be remembered
that art interventions are not ap- propriate for all clients, and
refusal to engage in an artistic experience needs to be respected
(Ulak & Cummings, 1997).
• Sketching, Drawing, and Painting
Lines of Feeling
• At times, people cannot find words to express their emotions, although they may
have a strong sense of what those feelings are. To help with awareness and expres-
sion, the counselor asks the client to draw lines representing his or her emotions us-
ing various art media (e.g., markers, colored pencils, paints, and crayons). The lines
vary in length and shape, but often jagged, rough lines in red or orange are used to
signify anger or discontent, and smooth, flowing pastel-colored lines are used to
rep- resent peacefulness (Gladding, 1997, 1998).

Road Maps
• The road map and its numerous variations (e.g., the life map and the lifeline) can be
used to help people review significant periods in their lives and anticipate the
future. Such activities help clients explore patterns, expand self-expression, and
plan their lives more effectively (Gladding, 1998; Kahn, 1999; Miller, 1993). They also
can serve as forms of qualitative assessment that stimulate counseling interaction
(Gold- man, 1990).
The Bridge
• For clients dealing with difficult life situations, visual representations of the
situation and possible solutions can be empowering (Gladding, 1997; Mills &
Crowley, 1986).

Comic Strips and Cartoons
• Liebmann (1990) found that using comic strips facilitated communication and
helped get clients involved in the counseling process. In her work with offenders in
the context of a probation office, she designed this method to help them look at
problem behaviors and alternatives. Liebmann introduces the concept of the comic
strip as a way of learning more about their perceptions of the offense. Often the cli-
ent needs prompting, and the cartoon strip becomes a dialogue, with the counselor
encouraging the client to draw out as much information and as many stages as
• After the comic strip is completed, the counselor and client look at it together. This
process provides an opportunity for offenders to distance themselves from what
happened. It may prompt them to see themselves as actors in the center of the
story rather than mere victims of circumstance, thereby marking the first step on
the road to taking responsibility for their choices, actions, and consequences.
• The process of creating images to represent inner experiences was inspired by Jung
(1965), who drew, painted, and sculpted representations of dreams and fantasy ex-
periences. Based on the psychological value he personally discovered from explor-
ing the images, Jung later encouraged his patients to make visual images of their
own inner experiences (Edwards, 1987). The use of images in counseling is not
limited to therapists trained in Jungian psychology. Counselors of various theoreti-
cal orientations can provide clients with opportunities to create images to facilitate
the release of emotional or traumatic experiences that might otherwise be

Counselor-Made Drawings
• Another way counselors can combine art with therapy is by making their own
impromptu sketches during counseling sessions. These drawings delineate issues
brought forth by the client in order to promote dialogue and objectify concerns. The
sketches provide opportunities for situations to be exposed and then explored in a
nonthreatening manner (Edens, Newsome, & Witherspoon, 1996). According to
Cudney (1975), pictures drawn by counselors in sessions can help in understand- ing
and objectifying counseling issues, increasing openness to oneself, promoting
counselor–client conversations, clarifying problems, and reaching nonverbal clients.


• “Photographs are footprints of our minds, mirrors of our lives, reflections from our
hearts, frozen memories we can hold in silent stillness in our hands—forever, if we
wish. They document not only where we may have been but also point the way to
where we might perhaps be going, whether we know it yet or not” (Weiser, 1993, p.
1). According to Weiser, photography, or “phototherapy,” is a way to capture and
express feelings and ideas in a visual–symbolic form across the lifespan.

• It works “particularly well for people who find other visual arts too demanding or
too risky to try” (Weiser, 1993, p. 13). Phototherapy can personalize the counseling
process while promoting self-awareness and increasing sensitivity. It can help
assess client concerns, build the counselor–client relationship, facilitate
communication, and mea- sure progress and change throughout the counseling
process (Amerikaner, Schauble, & Ziller, 1980; Gladding, 1998; Krauss, 1981).