What is the scope of practice of creative arts therapies?

Venn Diagram illustrating the fields that interact with the scope of practice of creative arts therapies

One of the struggles of being a creative arts therapist is helping others understand what that means.

I created this Venn diagram to help. I want to show how multiple fields and approaches have developed in an attempt to understand the potential therapeutic benefits of the arts.

Even this is simplistic in many ways. It does not touch on all the ways that the arts can be used in community organizing. Or systems like special education.

This is just to show that it’s COMPLICATED.

From the outside, it might be hard – or even impossible – to tell which process is at work in a given moment or project.

It takes a lot of training and experience to understand all the ways the arts interact and overlap.

If you want to better understand how creative arts therapies could help you, contact me. I am always happy to educate!


The intersection of art + activism.

Artivism operates from the intersection of the “expanded fields” (a term coined by critic and contemporary art theorist Rosalind Krauss) of art and activism. The goal is to create scenarios that advance social criticism.

Working from this intersection allows for the creation of “liminal scenarios, events when life and art, the ethical condition and aesthetic creation, cross paths.” This intersectionality allows artivism to put forward other forms of political activity.

Artivist actions became popular in the late 1990s. They have been present, however, throughout the history of social and artistic movements. Examples include the revolutionary movements of May 1968, “zapatismo” in Mexico, the uprising of 2006 in Oaxaca, and the Occupy movements in Madrid and Wall Street in 2011.

The forms artivism takes change according to its historical context. And its use of technology and media. In general, artivism harnesses the critical imagination. It designs events and strategies that provoke new questions and new meaning. It is in pursuit of more respectful ways of being.

Applied Theatre

Applied theatre is the use of theatre processes and products for interactive community projects. It hopes to bring people together and build bridges. It also strives to protest oppression and fight for social justice through the awareness created by the art form.

Applied Drama is a term that has gained popularity towards the end of the 20th century. It describes drama practice in an educational, community, or therapeutic context.

In 2000, Judith Ackroyd wrote an essay entitled “Applied Theatre: Problems and Possibilities.” She states, “I have identified two features which I believe to be central to our understanding of applied theatre; an intention to generate change (of awareness, attitude, behaviour, etc.), and the participation of the audience.”

Arts Education

Arts education teaches students the skills required create art and engage in a career as a professional artist. It also offers information about aesthetics and history of the development of the arts.

Creative processes are engaged in with the goal of providing an educational experience and creating relevant professional skills. Any therapeutic benefit is generally seen as secondary.

Arts in Health

Arts in health is using the power of the arts to enhance health and well-being in diverse institutional and community contexts. The Arts are used as a creative or expressive outlet, a distraction, and/or a tool for stress management.

In the late twentieth century, most Arts in Health programs were designed as collaborations between professional caregivers, arts administrators, arts consultants, and artists. They wanted to bring works of original art into the hospital to enhance and humanize the healthcare environment.

A growing number of medical centers have an arts coordinator or director. They manage a variety of arts experiences such as visiting artists, artists-in-residence, arts programming developed in partnership with community arts agencies, arts collections, and rotating arts exhibits. A major focus of their work is using the arts to enhance the working environment. And reduce the impact of stress on professional caregivers.

Arts in Health is the term used to encompass these other arts programs and initiatives, both in healthcare settings (Arts in Healthcare) and in public health (Arts in Community Health).

Arts in Psychotherapy

This is when the therapeutic relationship itself and the theoretical frame of psychotherapy are used to create the container of the arts content. Intervention or evaluation of arts or creative processes is verbal in nature. It is used to strengthen psychotherapeutic interventions.

“In verbal therapy, the medium is words–therapists listen to people talk in order to make assessments and formulate interventions,” says Anne Fisher, PhD, a psychologist and registered dance therapist in Washington, D.C. “In dance therapy, movement is the medium for assessment and intervention.”

Creative Arts Therapies

According to NCCATA, creative arts therapy is “human service professionals who use arts-based interventions and creative processes for the purpose of ameliorating disability and illness and optimizing health and wellness.”

Creative arts therapies share a commitment to the “expressive action that engages emotions in a direct and physical way; an ability to generate creative energy as a healing force for mind, body, and spirit; and a belief that the creative imagination can find its way through out most perplexing and complex problems and conflicts.” (McNiff, 2005)

Most creative arts therapists have extensive backgrounds in the arts that they use. As well as education in therapy or psychological theories and techniques.

Art therapist Debra Linesch, PhD. is chair of the marital and family therapy department at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, which offers specialized training in art therapy. Linesch notes, “Most of the students who come to us have a substantive background as artists. So they’re embedding their training in that background.”

Likewise, psychologists who are also licensed or registered arts therapists generally have a background in the arts.

Fisher was a ballet dancer for years, and then completed a psychology degree in college. Most psychologists don’t have this extensive background in the arts, Linesch says.

It’s important to distinguish between an arts therapist and a psychologist who uses some art in his or her practice. “To be committed to the arts is different than being a social worker or psychologist who uses some art.”

https://www.trauma-informedpractice.com/resources/creative-arts-in-counseling/ also outlines some differences between Creative Arts Therapies and “Creative Arts in Counseling.”

If you want to learn more about drama therapy specifically, go here! Or contact me.

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