I am always careful to let non-art therapists who ask this type of question about the difference between therapeutic art and art therapy. A therapeutic art class is to art therapy what a good listener is to a psychotherapist. The training, approach, and goals are very different. That said, there are things you as an art teacher can learn from art therapy to make your art classes more emotionally valuable to your students. The most important single thing you can do is to create a safe environment for your students to express whatever is going on for them in their art, without fear that their privacy will be violated with too much probing (adolescents), or that they will be ridiculed. To that end it is important to treat all their art work respectfully by judging it only to the extent that it expresses what the artist wished to express. Another helpful thing is private, personal storage of art, such as individual portfolios. A good rule of thumb is to treat the art with the same high level of respect you would treat their feelings with. I also think it is helpful to provide a wide variety of colour and medium choices, and to be available to assist them in achieving their vision for individual art works, rather than imposing your asthetic on them. If a student appears emotional while creating art, trust your instincts and knowledge of the student, but you might consider encouraging him/her to continue with creating art and put whatever is going on into the art rather than stopping if he or she gets frustrated, sad or angry. Creating art in itself can be very healing and empowering, if the environment doesn't get in the way.
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