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What's the Difference? Arts/Crafts and Art Therapy

I Light LLC, Therapy Blog- What's the Difference? Arts/Crafts and Art Therapy

When working with clients and people walk by the studio space I can understand the view, people see us Art Therapists making art. Yes, it appears we are doing arts and crafts. So people tend to enter that space because they think it looks like "fun." In actuality there is a therapeutic relationship being developed and private information being experienced and shared.

When we think about a traditional therapy model, imagine the therapist in his or her office space with a client. What do you see? Most likely it would appear that two people are in conversation with one another, and people wouldn't typically walk into that space to hear what was being discussed and join the conversation. It is a common misconception that art therapy is arts and crafts, and I often get this question inquiring the differences. So I wanted to clarify some key points that separate the two from one another.


Arts and Crafts:

Create a completed and finished product

Teaching, instruction or advice is given

Be able to have a specific set of skills to create product

Aesthetically pleasing

Artwork can be compared to the outcome of what it was suppose to look like

The art piece can be judged by others based on it's outcome

The results of the piece can reveal a "good" outcome and a "bad" outcome

Art Therapy:

Intentional use of the arts to meet specific goals and for psychological change

The arts are used within a therapeutic context as a form of therapy

Creating is an expression of an extension of the self, creating an art piece that someone is not satisfied with or destroying an art piece is seen as a part of the growing and healing process

Artwork does not have to be aesthetically pleasing or finished to be considered valuable

Led by an Art Therapist (minimum requirements is a Masters degree from an approved program according to AATA standards)


The studio is the therapeutic space where someone is visually creating an extension of themselves to lay out on display; to be seen in one's most vulnerable state.

Now, I am not saying that one is better than the other. I am only identifying distinguishing characteristics that differentiate the two from one another. Working in therapy is not always fun, it is not an easy process for the client and it takes time to build a secure space and develop a therapeutic relationship. During art therapy, the person creates from a private and personal place that practices courage, healing and growth.

Learn more about Art Therapy here:

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