Art Therapy: The New Frontier

Looks at the program in the College of Fine Art at the University of New South Wales.

It has been known for a long time that people can be helped by being encouraged to produce artworks such as paintings, drawings, or sculpture. The non-literary arts such as painting sculpture, music and dance have long been used to represent, to explore and to symbolise what cannot be said in words. In art therapy, this self-expression may have a cathartic action , or assist the individual in self-understanding. In a sense, the canvas provides a person with whom to communicate, who is neutral and guaranteed not to criticise.
Moreover the artist may be able to communicate graphically feelings which he or she is unable or willing to communicate verbally. the art work can, if the patient wishes, serve also as a means of communication with the therapist.
Art therapy in practice is not a new concept. It has been used for centuries. What is new is the recognition that art therapy is more than the sum of art practice and therapeutic practice. While this has been accepted for about fifty years in Great Britain and the USA it is only in the last ten years that art therapy has been accepted in Australia. There are now numerous Australian professional art therapists, many of whom have been trained in Australian universities, notably the University of Western Sydney and Edith Cowan University. They have a professional body, The Australian National Art Therapy Association.

For over ten years the College of Fine Art of the University of New South Wales has explored the mutual interactions of art and therapy in the elective courses offered at undergraduate and post graduate levels. In these classes we have explored the use of art materials with the non-artist, have looked briefly at the different approaches to therapies, and seen how art is an appropriate addition to these. We have explored the use of art in the counselling of children, adolescents and the elderly, the sick and the dying, the incarcerated and the psychotic. From 1998, students will be able to study a Graduate Certificate Course in Art Therapy. It is anticipated that the increasing awareness of the value of art therapy in its own right and as an adjunct to other forms of therapy will lead to an expansion of these courses and contribute to the therapeutic armamentarium of social, psychological and psychiatric services.