What is Art Therapy?


Art Therapy is now an established profession, recognised by the South African Medical and Dental Council.  Its practioners have to undergo a rigorous course of Post Graduate training.  As yet, no training is offered in South Africa and therefore South African practioners are trained overseas (commonly in the UK, but some training courses in other parts of the world are also accredited, such as in the USA, Canada and Australia). The most important thing is that the rules have been updated for registration on your return to South Africa, and the training you choose needs to be a Masters degree. Previously a post-graduate diploma was sufficient, but no longer.

Art Therapy practice has become established within the firm base of psychotherapeutic principles.  Amongst other things, this means that Art Therapists adhere to the boundaries and confidentiality offered in a client/therapist relationship.  The work is usually non-directive and is contained in a safe environment.

Art Therapy involves the use of different art media through which a client can express and work through issues and concerns that have brought him or her into therapy.  It is a discipline through which a client and therapist are able to communicate by the making of images (as in painting or drawing) and objects (as in clay work) rather than the exclusive use of the spoken word.

In doing so, participants often externalise unconscious material (which will usually include those difficult and painful issues we often try to ignore).  By externalisation, it will be easier to work with or explore these difficult emotions/issues in a creative way.  (For many clients it is easier to relate to the therapist through the art object which, as a personal statement, provides a focus for discussion, analysis and self-evaluation.)  As it is concrete, it acts as a record of the therapeutic process that cannot be denied, erased or forgotten and offers possibilities for reflection in the future.  The making of images and objects can be an acceptable way of expressing “unacceptable” emotions such as rage, hate, aggression.

The actual art-making process can bring about a release of tension, and is therefore therapeutic inits own right.  Art is closely aligned to play and should be fun!  It is not necessary for the participant (client) to be good at art.

Training as an Art Therapist

Our training:  Art Therapy is a minimum total of six years of study.  The training involves a rigorous two year Masters Degree.   The pre-requisites for acceptance on to an Art Therapy programme are:

A four year undergraduate art degree (exceptional circumstances and a good portfolio are recognised if the entrant has an undergraduate degree in a different field of training).

The entrant must also have at least a year full-time equivalent experience of work in community/ welfare, health or education.

Applicants should normally have some experience of personal therapy.

Art Therapy training:  During the training it is mandatory that all students undergo weekly individual psychotherapy for the entire duration of the course.

The training provides a placement where students practice their theoretical knowledge and therapeutic skills in a clinical setting  (ie. A Child and Family Unit, Psychiatric hospital etc).  While on placement students have weekly supervision with a senior member of the placement therapy team.  Students must complete a total of 130 days or 100 hours in the placement.  Students also learn how to conduct professional assessments, write case notes and letters to other professionals (ie. Psychiatrists, general practitioners etc).

The Course requires students to submit a dissertation of 10,000 words, a case study of 8,000 – 10,000 words and a number of long essays (approx 4,000 words).  The length and amount of long essays varies slightly from course to course.

Throughout the first all students participate in weekly workshops led by an art therapist/tutor in order to develop self-awareness and explore different media and approaches, and relate the processes learnt in these workshops to practice.

Students attend seminars and case conferences during their training, and also have weekly peer supervision groups that are facilitated by a course lecture/tutor.

At present no Art Therapy training is offered in South Africa and subsequently all Art Therapists presently practicing in South Africa have had to be trained overseas.

Why we facilitate Groups and Workshops:

Art Therapy is a relatively new profession (in South Africa) –  recognised by the South African Medical  and Dental Council over 10 years ago.  Art Therapy is now a registrable profession.  As it is a valued form of therapeutic intervention, we as Art therapists are attempting to raise the profile of Art Therapy.

There seems to be some confusion regarding the function and nature of Art Therapy amongst many health care workers and the general public.  To provide a bit of insight into our profession, a brief history might be helpful:

Although there were tentative beginnings of the profession of art therapy in Britain in the 1940’s and the first post was established in the National health Service (UK) in 1946, it was not until 1981 that the profession was officially recognised in the Health Service in England.  Since then, Art therapy has become more widely recognised and is now a valued profession within social services, education and other independent agencies such as the hospice movement and voluntary organisations.  The first Art Therapy programme was set up in Britain thirty five years ago, and since then 5 universities in the UK offer a Course that is recognised by the British Association of Art therapists.  Art Therapy training is also offered by several universities in America, Canada and other countries in Europe and the East.

Our aims and objectives in facilitating these groups, and what can you gain from them:

In facilitating groups we hope to create an awareness of out profession.  This workshop/experiential group is designed especially for people who have not had contact with Art Therapy and can only give a taste of what it is about.

The workshop/group is obviously limited; by necessity it cannot give one much sense of the essence of Art Therapy which is to operate with process and relationship.   This group by no means enables one to practice Art Therapy.

Please remember that any directive theme used in groups or workshops cannot be automatically adapted to be used in one’s profession.  These themes involve issues around containment and boundaries, and are often complex and sensitive.

The workshop provides you with an opportunity to explore your own creative process in relation to self-awareness.


What is Art Therapy?