Miami Students Explore the Power of Art Therapy

Students examine artworks displayed on a table

It’s no secret that artists hope that their artwork provokes a reaction in the viewer. The most beautiful works of art often end up leaving people in tears as they are overcome with emotions created by the careful brush strokes, color combinations, lifelike essences, and elegant shapes.

Miami University’s Introduction to Art Therapy class studies the difference between feel-good art like this and art as a tool for use in the mental health field. In other words, students in this class examine how therapeutic art differs from art therapy to help dispel the idea that art therapy is only a technique rather than a field of study requiring research and a master’s degree.

Senior Andy Sens chose this class because it was something different from most art courses: it wasn’t about composition or history. He stated, “I learned about what art therapy was which may be obvious, but more importantly, I learned what art therapy wasn't.” As Sens learned, professional art therapists must be trained in both the creation of art and psychological therapy.

For their final project in Introduction to Art Therapy, students were challenged to find a way to represent internal thoughts and feelings in an external manner, much like art therapists do. The final projects also had to communicate the difference between making art and using art as a tool for psychological healing.

Sens embraced the challenge and put his illustration skills to work creating a comic book which encompassed all that he had learned about art therapy. He wrote, “Overall I am thankful for the challenge to step out of my comfort zone and make something educational and creative.”

Elly Hunter is a junior Art Therapy minor who chose this area of study because of her belief in therapeutic art as well as her passion for helping others. Her final project took the form of pill bottles filled with information about art therapy with the bottles spelled out to say “ART.” She wrote, “The pill bottles signified that art therapy is a legitimate form of therapy that has to be facilitated by a certified art therapist and helps an individual.”

For Hunter, this class, and by extension this final project, helped her explore the field of art therapy in a new way. She stated, “I was excited each class session of ART 194 to learn more about the field.”

Introduction to Art Therapy is a required course for the art therapy minor within the Art Department, and the minor is open to any Miami student, regardless of major. Written by Miami University student, Beth Pfohl.