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Making Art is not Art Therapy: Differences between Coping and Therapy

Sometimes I have blogs sitting for a while until I think it's time to share and lucky for me a while back when I asked for an opinion to my pleasant surprise it was featured on a blog by CrossFit 616. Sitting here and receiving messages about art therapy has brought me back to this piece and it seems now more than ever may be the appropriate time to share.

To be honest, it is so exciting to see people fall on the arts and physical fitness as coping skills during this time. Whether that's making art making, music, dancing, cooking, home improvement, gardening, working out, I am a firm believer that creativity and creative thinking are essential to survival and more often now we are seeing people utilize these things for coping, comfort, distraction, relaxation, hope and connection.


And before this pandemic often I would hear or see on social media:

“Going to the gym is my therapy” “Had some therapy with my friend over coffee”

“Spotify knows what music therapy I need today”

“Did some art therapy today” (with a picture of art)


I sit here and think...well did you have a physical therapist, counselor, music therapist or art therapist present?


Did you have an agreed treatment plan?


Along with several other questions that spiraled in my mind.


This is not therapy these are coping skills, and healthy ones at that.

Yes, they create connection, you may experience catharsis, tap into an emotional response, and meet psychosocial needs. Certainly you can feel therapeutic effects through physical fitness, venting, music and art and that is not therapy.


It got me thinking what does therapy mean?

By definition according to Merriam Webster, 2019

Therapy (noun) Medical treatment of impairment, injury, disease, or disorder treatment of a disorder or injury of the body or mind Remedial treatment of mental or bodily disorder An agency (as treatment) designed or serving to bring about rehabilitation or social adjustment


I believe by saying these phrases it can cause more harm to ourselves than good. It supports that going to the gym, as an example, is my therapy and I don’t need a therapist or I don’t need to go to therapy. What tends to happen is that by believing these things you are doing yourself a disservice from processing what you really need to work through and this may only mask over what you need to process to live a more fulfilling life.

By saying these phrases it is perpetuating a problem with what therapy really is and a stigma to going to a therapist.

You deserve to take care of you, otherwise it may also seep out to other professionals, friends and family who are not qualified to respond to you with what you really need. These people are not qualified therapists and are placed in uncomfortable situations that is out of their scope of practice and may cause more distress in their own lives too.


Yes, I support art making as a positive coping skill. You will see me continue to encourage art making by offering ideas, sharing stories and inspiration on my social media accounts, and this is not art therapy.

(And just for your enjoyment here is a "younger Leara" making art- not engaging in art therapy)


The role of a therapist must follow ethical standards and scope of practice, confidentiality, PHI and HIPPA standards. They are their to guide you through a process that unveils layers that have brought pain into your life, help you organize your thoughts, in a safe environment to release your authentic self and be honest with yourself what is really going on.

Ultimately then....

The gym is not your therapy. Venting to a friend is not therapy.

Listening to music is not music therapy.

Making art is not art therapy.

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