Davis Desk

Therapeutic Approaches to Art Education

By Barbara Place, posted on Apr 22, 2020

As all art educators know, many of our students across the country in all grades and in all settings—urban, suburban, and rural—have experienced psychological traumas and loss that affect them academically, cognitively, socially, behaviorally, and emotionally. In today’s COVID-19 crisis, this trauma is extending to hundreds of thousands of students who are struggling—along with their family members and caregivers—with the sudden and dramatic disruption of their daily lives.

Therapeutic Approaches to Art Education

Whether you are still actively teaching in the classroom or supporting your students through virtual learning, your expertise as an art educator is an important tool in helping your students address trauma, anxiety, loss, and fear. While some students can express their trauma through writing, many students are too young to write their feelings articulately or not skilled or confident as writers. But all of our students can express their thoughts through some form of art.

The art room has always been an important, safe place for our students to express themselves and their concerns through visual language. As an art educator, you have seen how art making can create powerful ways for students to address trauma and loss and to express difficult feelings.

In our effort to provide art educators with the most cutting-edge, relevant, and evidence-based curriculum ideas and information, Davis established the Art Education in Practice Series, a series of books that translates current research in art education into practical, meaningful strategies in the art room. The latest addition to this acclaimed series is Therapeutic Approaches in Art Education by Dr. Lisa Kay. (See a complete list of our titles here.)

Dr. Kay is a leading expert in therapeutic approaches in art education. She is an artist, educator, board-certified art therapist, and researcher with a focus on art as resilience and healing. Dr. Kay is an associate professor and the department chair of art education and community arts practices and program head of art therapy at the Tyler School of Art and Architecture at Temple University.

In this latest book in the Art Education in Practice Series, Dr. Kay provides you with research on art therapy and how it is similar to and distinct from art education. She offers practical strategies to help all students address hidden pressures, stressors, and trauma through art making and exploration. Therapeutic Approaches in Art Education contains a wealth of practical ideas and strategies for helping your students deal with childhood traumas and challenges.

In addition to her new book, Dr. Kay has partnered with Davis Professional Development to offer a free webinar on therapeutic approaches in art education. You can find the first of this series and other complimentary sessions here. This first webinar introduces the foundations and intersections of art therapy and art education. What are the foundations of art therapy? How are art therapy and art education the same and how are they different? Here are just a few topics covered in Dr. Kay’s new book and Professional Development sessions about therapeutic approaches in art education:

  • Therapeutic art strategies can help support and enhance your art teaching. The goals of these strategies are not to make art educators into art therapists (though you could certainly pursue a master’s degree to become certified as an art therapist). Rather, the goals of Dr. Kay’s book and webinars are to help you identify practical ways to support your students in their communication, self-expression, healing, and rehabilitation through art.
  • Therapeutic art strategies can support all of your students in thoughtful and holistic ways.
  • Art educators can create a safe place for personal inquiry and reflection with both individual and social content.
  • Therapeutic approaches in art education can help students communicate their ideas, express their emotions, and learn to self-regulate.
  • Art educators can help students explore important themes that relate to self, identity, and society.
  • Artworks created in art education and art therapy are visual forms of language that can be used for viewing, organizing, and understanding personal phenomena.
  • Both art education and art therapy encourage a sense of play, spontaneity, an increased range of expression, and promote a sense of self-worth and autonomy.
  • Therapeutic approaches in art can help you connect with your students by drawing upon the therapeutic aspect of art and art therapy.
  • Therapeutic approaches in art can contribute to your school’s social-emotional learning curriculum and learning objectives.
  • The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) supports school districts nationwide (Casel.org). According to CASEL, Social-Emotional Learning includes five core components: self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision-making, relationship skills, and social awareness.

As you review this list, think of the many strategies you currently use to support therapeutic approaches in your classroom. Then check out Dr. Kay’s free webinar and/or her new book for more ideas to enhance your teaching.

Interested in learning more about art therapy and therapeutic approaches in art? Dr. Kay recommends these three books as a primer to give you some ideas and inspiration:

Creative and Mental Growth by Viktor Lowenfeld “Children are the essence of this book, but more than that, they are the essence of society. Creative and intellectual growth are the basis of any educational system, and it is the hope that this book can contribute to an understanding of the importance of this area so as to make the education of children a joyful and meaningful experience. The content is aimed at an understanding and appreciation of children and their art products.” —The Publisher

I Never Saw Another Butterfly: Children’s Drawings and Poems from the Terezin Concentration Camp, 1942–1944 by Hana Volavkova “A total of 15,000 children under the age of fifteen passed through the Terezin Concentration Camp between the years 1942–1944; less than 100 survived. In these poems and pictures drawn by the young inmates of Terezin, we see the daily misery of these uprooted children, as well as their courage and optimism, their hopes and fears. The children’s poems and drawings, revealing maturity beyond their years, are haunting reminders of what no child should ever have to see.” —The Publisher

The Artist in Each of Us by Florence Cane Practical, step-by-step strategies and case studies. “Originally published in 1951, this book represents 25 years of the practical experience of a pioneer whose new methods bridge art education and art therapy. Cane considers both the psychological and technical factors of learning and personality growth. She gives us a careful step-by-step account of her teaching methods with a number of fascinating case studies.” —The Publisher

Dr. Kay also recommends that you check out this website: American Art Therapy Association

As art educators, you have the ability to help your students find new and creative ways to express themselves and address trauma. Please share any of your ideas here, or address questions to Dr. Kay. We will post Dr. Kay’s responses on this blog. And, consider submitting your ideas or lesson plans to SchoolArts magazine as an article.