Are you a counselor, therapist, or other helping professional who wants to use art with the people you serve?
These free art therapy coloring pages can help you bring the therapeutic value of art into your work.
Do you notice that the people you help sometimes open up and appear more relaxed if they have an art activity to do in session? You may be eager to invite more art into your work.
The soothing effects of certain types of art activities can be a great tool for the people you serve; both in session and out in the world.
Great, so I can start bringing out all of my art supplies now, right?
Hang on a minute! Your enthusiasm for the arts is beautiful, and it can certainly benefit the people you work with. And there are a few things to consider first….
One thing to think about before you drag out all of your clay and paint is that not all art processes will have that soothing effect for everyone.
Different types of materials have different emotional qualities.
For example, sliding your hands through finger paint across paper and getting lost in the messiness of that process can bring out intense feelings. Wet clay can have a similar quality, as can other art materials that are difficult to control, tactile, and potentially messy.
Conversely, coloring with pencils, markers, or crayons inside of pre-drawn borders is an art process that provides containment. That containment comes through high control of materials, low messiness, and very limited pressure to “be creative” on command.
If you’re just starting to experiment with using art in your work as a therapist or counselor, coloring is a safe place to start.
It might seem like a good idea for a person to let all of their feelings flow out through art, but it can be a sticky operation.
Art can be an emotionally opening activity for a few reasons.
ONE: The brain areas we use to make and view it are tied to the parts that store emotional memories.
TWO: Most people aren’t accustomed to communicating with other people through art like they are with words. That means they don’t have access to usual emotional defense strategies. This means that the open flow of emotions sometimes happens when the person is not intending for it to happen. This can make them feel out of control.
Just like we wouldn’t want to set our clients up to be emotionally flooded in a traditional talk therapy session, we want to make sure we are being mindful of what we are opening up when we use the art.
Okay, so they have been working on this really expressive coloring piece. What is the best way to talk about it with them?
While they’re working, you may choose to sprinkle in some observations or questions about the art piece.
It can be difficult, but when you make comments or ask questions about the art, it’s important to avoid focusing on the technical skill or visual appeal of the product.
Most of us haven’t done art since we took art classes in our youth, and the discussion we had about our art in those settings was often centered on our skills with the technique we were learning.
Using art for therapeutic purposes has a different focus.
Art in this case is about expression and communication.
TIP #1: Instead of saying “I like the way you shaded that part,” you could say something like “The colors in this part of the image are really vivid. What feelings do those colors hold for you?”
TIP #2: When the art piece is finished, you can invite the artist to share more about how they chose to fill in the piece and what it means to them.
TIP #3: If they don’t want to say more about it, that’s fine too. Sometimes the process is enough.
When should I refer the person I’m helping to meet with someone who is specially trained in art therapy?
ONE: If your client does not express themselves fully through words.
TWO: If your client is resistant to talking about issues bringing them to therapy directly.
THREE: Your client has expressed an interest in art making. They might have shared they enjoy making art in their free time. Or they strike you as being a creative person.
FOUR: Your client may not be able to pin point exactly what is causing their anxiety, depressive symptoms or high stress levels. Art therapy helps to connect beyond the conscious mind to illuminate underlying factors.
Professionals with the ATR credential have completed graduate programs and supervision specifically focused on art therapy. Those with ATR-BC credentials have completed board certification exams.
All of the therapists who work with us at One Heart Counseling Center are Registered Art Therapists, and you can learn more about each of us here.
You can also use the American Art Therapy Association’s locator tool to find other art therapists near you here.