Art -v- Art Therapy


I have done both (poorly) but can share my take.
First, please no laughing matter but I suck at art BUT have also innate urgent need to draw. It is torture.

When I was young, I attempted but due to the nature of my childhood traumatic, I had to hide any pleasure in creativity so this did not develop well.

When I went to therapy first time, there was element of art therapy and I was pissed off and envious how amazing others drew while I was drawing like a f*cking toddler.
I hate it. I was embarrassed. I had no connection to the pen, pencil or crayon or my fingers or body. It was a serious doodling of the insane.
I hate it but I did feel it was channeling interesting material AS I had to explain to the group what is this blah I came up with. So the talking about it was therapeutic and things I did not know about me will come out like hate to myself, envy, feeling like a ball of garbage etc.

So over this past summer, I visited my siblings and some of them are freakingly amazing in closet artists...I really mean that. and I always knew but this time I was inspired and decided to order that small art kit at Amazon. Since then I have been drawing like a mad woman. My depth, colour, content, and clarity is sooo good, this convinced me I have taken a positive turn in my journey. I feel the pen, the paper, my body and the creative juice like listening to music. The best distraction. I am more of abjection artist - I draw from my trauma experience - makes sense right.

So my topics are more morbid like face instead of vagina or a head full of 'others' etc but this resonates with me. And starting just few months ago, I am darn good by what others are saying about it (my husband so biased and my sisters who are more direct). BUT I feel like an artist now. I feel the juice and I own the juice.

Hope this makes sense and gives you an insight.


Hm...i tend to steer away from these differences only because for me, any kind of art or creative endeavor is a kind of therapy for me. I suspect others may do art (in whatever form) for pleasure, which can differ from art as therapy, but the two merge for me.


For me, art therapy has typically involved taking an issue I'm dealing with in therapy (eg shame, guilt, boundaries, etc) and exploring it in a visual way.

I'm crap at art. But have found art therapy incredibly helpful.


Couple of examples of using visual representations to explore therapeutic subjects in a different way...
Exploring Fear, and what confronting fear would mean/feel like to me; 70D2D9E8-2FE5-411B-8704-A610241B3EDD.jpegand
My SUDs scale6E6D97C2-EA70-48CF-910D-95944CAE1A02.jpeg.

So, it doesn't have to just be "how do I feel" stuff. Any therapeutic concept, that doesn't translate so well into words for a person, may be understood or resolved easier for them in a different way.

I've also used drumming and music therapy with some success. In all 3, they were with a person who had qualifications primarily in mental health.


  • 0833F131-1D6D-480A-8C64-D5DFBA8405D0.jpeg
    1.8 MB · Views: 8


i tend to steer away from these differences only because for me, any kind of art or creative endeavor is a kind of therapy for me
Yep yep.

I’m suspecting the difference is on par with journaling or keeping a diary -v- using a Trauma Diary for exposure therapy; or “There’s something about the outside of a horse which is good for the inside of a man.” -v- Equine Therapy; or going to an all inclusive resort -v- inpatient treatment.

But I don’t really know, as I’ve never done art therapy, and the only kind I’m familiar with is the interpretation of kids’ art as a forensic tool.


I’ve been “on hold” in trauma therapy for the past several years as my life hasn’t been stable enough to support it, and then out of therapy altogether since Covid… but my life has also started stabilizing like a mofo in the past year since my ex no longer has custody… and (touch wood!) over the next 6-12 months there are a lot more stabilizing elements in the works.

With foundations finally (touch wood!) being laid in my life, again, one of the things I’m looking at is whether or not to return to therapy; and if so? What kinds. One of the places I got a whoooooole lotta traction before my life went completely sideways was back in 2014 when someone suggested doing a trauma diary in pictures, rather than words. That was pretty mind blowing.

But I also really haven’t done anything art-art since that same time period. Part of that is simple practicality; it’s expensive and time/space consuming. But that’s a much smaller part than the simple fact that my life & my head have been f*cked up.

Post from 2016 really reminded me of that, as I was searching this topic… as I’d basically forgotten I used to do any of that, or what it felt like.
There was a time I sculpted the scenes and images and memories in my mind. There was a time I melted glass into fragments of memory, tokens of what once was: The sun reflecting off water, the dappled shade, passion, love, loss, grief, joy, the smell of the air, the bite of sand on skin. There was a time I lost myself in music, and movement, and being purely in the moment. There was a time that I used both photography and writing to the same yet opposite purpose; one to freeze a moment in time, the other to capture limitless time in a moment. There was a time when art breathed life into the world I was living.

They all seem like a very long time ago.

So in toying around with the notion of bringing either/both (arts & therapy) back into my life? Of perhaps not having to keep the two things seperate, whilst at the same time not sure if it’s a good idea, or even what it would look like.
I’ve never been in art therapy but have often made drawings since childhood. Not until the late 1980s, had I made drawings of the things that disturb me and basically because I couldn’t understand what they were. I still don’t know but, drawing them did seem to help me while, enabling me to at least share my experiences with a few others. I never thought of these drawings as being self-expressive works of art but rather strictly descriptive to the best of my ability.

On the other hand, self-expressive artwork, I’m always done. The following are my thoughts on trying to free myself enough to do it.

Thoughts, feelings, ones degree of self-confidence, as well, as how free one feels in expressing them will often be evident in the artwork — this is what makes art so interesting. Then too, the language must be learned, just as with any other language. Art however, have a huge universal advantage in saying what can’t be put into words and also in saying it immediately and vividly on a gut level.

Perhaps because of my lifelong difficulty using words, my aphasia and expressive language disorder I’ve always gravitated towards drawing. Yet not until my mid 20s had I totally broken away from my desire to paint objects realistically. With this shift in my thinking, I only then began to understand the language within art. On the other hand, the restrictions of representational accuracy and realism say very little about the artist’s feelings but rather more about their technical methods and chosen narratives. This I can appreciate though, I’d rather paint from my imagination which isn’t easy. .

What’s important is the intent which requires one to open-up to their inner thoughts and feelings. Often I was trying to paint from my imagination during my 20s, as my first T had suggested. Yet I’d often quit. My anxieties were just too high when painting. I’d actually become physically ill, even while taking my Valium. Whatever abstraction I was painting at that time, I’d soon paint over it before it might suggest anything. So then, basically all I was doing was painting one vague unfinished abstraction over top of a previous vague abstraction.

I think too, that my Valium was preventing me from accessing my deeper thoughts and feelings which, I greatly needed to express myself. When painting from my imagination I need my internal thoughts and feelings to guide me, as this is my only resource.

I think the greatest stumbling block for expressive artwork is often the artist’s inability to dismiss the harsh judgmental thoughts and phrases within their own mind. Artists have often said that, they wish they could paint with the same freedom they once felt as a child. Pablo Picasso once said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he (or she, inserted) grows up.”

Some artists listen to music (I often have) or audio books — one artist I knew chanted positive repeated phrases when he painting, perhaps, another way of trying to silence these negative thoughts. But total silence isn’t good either and when the artist senses that they’ve lost touch with the painting they should always stop.

I think there is no real right or wrong way of expressing oneself. For me, it’s as if, someone else’s negative thoughts were popping-up in my mind saying, ’No, this isn’t what you want to say (paint). No this isn’t how you really feel.’ (My mother use to say these words to me). So my takeaway from this might be to assume that, my painting, my thoughts and feelings must be wrong no madder how I paint the painting.

This ‘other voice’ creates a very frustrating, self-defeating situation. I really don’t know how to silence it. I only know that, I’ve mostly learned to ignore it as being irrelevant to me. Or perhaps, it’s still with me and now only disguised as perfectionism - another impossibility.

Whatever the case, a person can express their feelings without having any great technical skill in drawing or painting. Good drawing skills take years of practice while, self-expression, like doodling, doesn’t require them.
Last edited:


I think the difference is where you're coming from in the expression.
I paint for purpose. Ie. Hosting a paint n sip. Applying art rules teaching others basics of painting. Purpose.

But I've also focused on my feelings for my spouse and painted him a feelings painting. Expression of love.
I've expressed yucky feelings also in drawings etc.

Best way I can explain. It. Idk if this helps.


Music has always been therapeutic. I am rethinking my disdain for organized music (as in being in a band or open mic performance). Playing at home alone or with family members is FAR from playing with others and I am missing the tribal unity of making music with an ensemble. Maybe i need to go to a random church and just sing the old hymns that are left in me from another life, maybe go to a ball game (next season) and belt out the national anthem and god bless america and take me out to the ballgame a few times. There is as much to be said for just sharing your art as for the art itself. And there is a human desire to be accepted that is met by being in union with other artists, even a stadium full of strangers during the seventh inning stretch, while holding the third beer of the day.
Music has always been therapeutic. I am rethinking my disdain for organized music (as in being in a band or open mic performance). Playing at home alone or with family members is FAR from playing with others and I am missing the tribal unity
I agree, music is very therapeutic. I had been playing my piano almost every night after both my parents and younger sister had suddenly and unexpectedly died. Playing piano in the dark at home was fine with me, since I’m unable to read sheet music anyway, due to my reading aphasia. Yeah, music notes, I can’t read easily either. However, I did eventually teach myself to play keyboard by ear, though very hit and miss. Playing cords became more like learning the various finger/hand shapes. I’d then use improvisations to coverup my many blunders, as I was only played at home. I also once played and sung guitar folk songs along with my sister before alcohol had become a priority in her life — sad. I’ll always miss her.

My mother was a keyboard musician for most of her life, yet, she told me she lacked the skills of improvisation and couldn’t understand how I was doing it. I think these improvisations might also be apparent in my imaginary paintings and drawings. My guess is that, after my mother had learned to play a specific keyboard song she then might have been performing the song on auto-pilot. In other words, at that point, she then stopped communicating with the music and was playing it from memory.

I would imagine that, jamming with other musicians might help in developing ones improvisation skills. My mother, however, always performed solo.


I would imagine that, jamming with other musicians might help in developing ones improvisation skills.
And it satisfies the deep need to be accepted as one of the group. My theory: It was the easiest way to know for sure if someone was a member of the group before language and way waaay before ID cards. If you could sing the tribal song you were accepted. Just be here tonight when we all come together before sleep and keep up with the chord changes, you will be fine. Art was all we had, that and the tribal pull to join up and stay alive.