Art in therapy: Why children use art naturally in child therapy

August 1st, 2011

Why is art therapy and the creative process something that children naturally want to engage in? What’s the reason we create, and why do we all have an urge to express ourselves?

You may not believe you are creative, but if you look at your daily activities, there are creative ways you express yourself and you may not even be aware. These creative activities may involve the love of making a delicious meal from scratch, tending to a garden, decorating your home, designing spreadsheets to keep track of your activities, creating innovative systems, planning a getaway excursion, or enjoying the delight of singing or dancing (among other creative pursuits).

The author Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a pioneer in positive psychology and author of the book Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention writes about creative process called “flow”. Flow occurs when we are engaged in a creative activity where we engage in the process of performing a task, immersed in the feeling of focus and full engagement (often leading to sense of losing track of time). He explored what makes life worth living and how when we engage our creativity we achieve a sense of satisfaction and pleasure.

Cathy Malchiodi, art therapy pioneer examines the question in  Psychology Today ,  exploring what is art for, and why do we engage in the creative process across the globe and throughout the ages.

Both authors note the inherent need for creativity as a means of connection, pleasure, engagement, transcendence, and self-expression. Naturally, children gravitate to creative activities for play, processing ideas, developing mastery, pure pleasure and delight of exploration and expression. So it makes sense when a child is in therapy and they are naturally drawn to the art materials, toys, and creative activities where they can express themselves. Therapy can be a daunting experience, regardless of your age, and for children coming to therapy art provides a way to easily engage the child, and this expands across economic strata and cultural differences. As adults we can learn much from children’s  natural expression of their creativity and easy engagement in the process of “flow”.

Want to connect with your creative flow? Try a new class, take a dance class or exercise class, join the swim group, explore a watercolor class, gardening class, writing class, photography class, or cooking class. Whatever you enjoy spend an afternoon immersed in exploring, dive into the creative process further and then journal about what you discovered about yourself and the process.

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