Art therapists with experience of mental distress: Implications for art therapy training and practice

As part of its ongoing work to support and value the contributions to art therapy from service users, the British Association of Art Therapists conducted a survey of art therapists with dual experience as professionals and mental health service users…

Written by Val Huet & Sue Holttum

The survey aimed to establish if art therapists disclosed their experiences as service users when applying to train, during their art therapy training and/or when qualified. Participants (N = 20) were also surveyed on their motivation for disclosure or non-disclosure, their experiences of the process and the quality of responses they met. They were additionally asked whether their experiences of mental health services had impacted on the quality of their art therapy practice and if so, how.

The findings from this small sample suggest that disclosure was not easy. Reported responses to participants’ disclosures were mixed, with many experiencing both helpful and unhelpful responses. Emotional support appeared to be important for helping people both to normalise and to contain current distress.

Another finding concerns self-reported increased empathy for service users. Awareness and management of one’s own limitations was another reported gain, since reflecting on oneself and one’s life was usually enforced through the ‘breakdown’, hospitalisation or disruption of career path.

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