Art Therapy


How Art Therapy Works

Changes occur during the process of physical involvement with the materials, through the making of a significant art object, and through communication with the therapist via the art object. In art making, children are able to represent thoughts or feeling through an image and therefore make it more tangible and have a permanent record of their experiences. In creating an artwork, conflict, fear, or trauma is re-experienced, resolved, and overcome. This allows for them to better connect with others. In addition, physical and psychological skills are learned. A byproduct of working in art is that children have a stronger sense of who they are and what they are capable of achieving in the world as they learn to be creative and expressive.

Art Therapy with Indigenous People
  • Many Indigenous people utilize traditional arts and find them essential to their life and well-being (Archibald, Dewar, Reid & Stevens, 2010), therefore, art-making may find acceptance within their communities.
  • Non Indigenous art therapists can involve an Indigenous healer, or medicine person, with the client’s permission (Vivian, 2013).
  • A non-Indigenous art therapist can trigger resistance, due to the therapist’s identity or role that may represent inequality to the client, as related to historical and current trauma, rather than a pathway to resilience. Hence, it is important for non-Indigenous art therapists to gain understanding by actively experiencing the Indigenous worldview: consulting an Indigenous Elder or community leader, participate in presentations and workshops through professional conferences educational institutions and participation in Indigenous traditional ceremonies


Archibald, L., Dewar, J., Reid C. & Stevens, V. (2010). Rights of restoration. Canadian Art Therapy Association Journal, 23(2), pp. 2–17, doi: 10.1080/08322473.2010.11432334

Vivian, J. (2013). Full circle: Toward an Aboriginal model of art therapy (Master’s project) Montreal, Canada: Concordia University.

Eco-Art Therapy with Indigenous Children

My approach to connect with Indigenous children is through an ecologically-focused art therapy practice.
The practice of eco-art therapy blends art therapy methods with eco-psychology methods (Carpendale, 2008; Sweeney, 2013).
I have found that a focus on the environment seems to align with Indigenous beliefs that affirm their interconnectivity withnature.
I integrate and use nature symbols and objects in my practice and encourage Indigenous children with whom I work to relate to their environment through the use of natural art materials.
Through language and metaphor, we as humans become more aware of ourselves and of others, which promotes a more positive relationship to the environment (Carpendale, 2010).
Examples of eco-art therapy in practice involve the use of artmaking in natural settings, incorporating natural materials and metaphors in the art therapy room, mindfulness practices of nature and ceremonies (Kopytin & Rugh, 2017; Sweeney, 2017).

Eco-psychology Themes Relating to Indigenous Culture.

Eco-psychology focuses on the relationship between the human psyche and the natural environment as a means of helping people communicate better. Methods include nature-oriented awareness, arts, and rituals (Moughtin & Signoratta & Moughtin, 2009; Vakoch & Castrillón, 2014).
The basic premise acknowledges that the well-being of the eco-system is basic to human survival, and disruption of this balance can impact our very existence (Fisher, 2013; Rozak, 1995).
Eco-psychology awareness of and advocating for the eco-system.
Graveline (1998) stated that “the modern language of ecology makes ‘new’ the Traditional worldview” (p. 20) and included the need to connect to communities and revitalise individuals’ relationship to earth as mother.
Fisher (2013), a psychotherapist, emphasized the Indigenous peoples’ lifestyle as rooted in the natural world rather than separate from it.Overall, there is a need to re-establish the reciprocal relationship between the human psyche and nature to cherish and respect rather than dominate it.


Carpendale, M. (2008). Explorations of ecology and art therapy. Nelson, Canada: KATI Press.

Carpendale (2010). Ecological Identity & Art Therapy. Canadian Art Therapy Association  Journal, 23:2, 53-57, doi: 10.1080/08322473.2010.11432338

Fisher, A. (2013). Radical ecopsychology: Psychology in the service of life (Second Edition).  (Kindle version 1.17.0). Retrieved from

Graveline, F. J. (1998). Circleworks: Transforming eurocentric consciousness. Winnipeg,  Canada: Fernwood Publishing.

Kopytin, A. & Rugh, M. (2017). Environmental expressive therapies: Nature-assisted theory and practice.(Kindle version 1.17.0). Retrieved from

Moughtin, C., & Signoretta, p., & Moughtin, K. M. (2009). Urban Design: Health and Therapeutic Environment. Burlington, MA: Architectural Press.

Rozak, T. E., & Gomes, M. E., & Kanner, A. D. (1995). Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind. San Francisco, CA: Sierra Club Books.

Sweeney, T. (2017). Eco-art therapy: Creative activities that let earth teach. (Kindle version 1.17.0). Retrieved from

Vakoch, D. A. & Castrillón, V. F. (2014). Ecopsychology, Phenomenology, and the  Environment: The Experience of Nature. Basel, Switzerland: Springer Nature.

I found I could say things with colour and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way —things I had no words for.

Georgia O’Keeffe