Art Therapy with Indigenous People


I believe that Art therapy can contribute to the reconciliation process with Indigenous people. The creation of art as a personal vehicle of expression, which is common to both Indigenous cultures and the art therapy profession, could be the basis of increasing understanding and building relationships.

Rooted in my personal experience as a nature guide, the process of teaching and creating with children in nature through their senses is based on my intuition of their needs, and relates to the therapeutic concepts of the need for a “holding environment” (the special relationships in psycho-social environments that support the development of infants) and “containment” (which associated with holding, anchoring, focus, and framing; but, it also refers to boundaries and restrictions). Recognizing the need for a holding environment and containment comes from empathetic listening and understanding, my personal reflections, and my ecological perception. Nature provides an abundance of diverse ideas and materials, which stimulate the senses in many ways.

  • 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

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).


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-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.

Triadic Art Therapy with Indigenous Foster Children and Foster Parents

The treatment involves child and caregiver in joint art-making sessions with a focus on cultural connectedness.

  • Involves child and caregiver in joint art-making sessions with an art therapist who is attending to their cultural connectedness as a third element in their relationship.
  • Centers on the “relational values” of Indigenous culture.
  • Aims to strengthen the relationship between foster parents and foster children through culturally appropriate art therapy.
  • Integrates people from their community in the healing process, such as elders.
  • Is based on vast research about dyadic art therapy, attachment theory and its Indigenous parallel, which is connectedness in the broadest sense of the word, as it encompasses attachment to the community and the natural environment (Carriere & Richardson, 2009).
  • The art therapist leads the session with both the foster children and their foster parents.
  • The therapist assists the children in reducing trauma symptoms and supports them in their grieving process (Sun-Reid, 2012) while modeling the same for foster parents to be able to access.
  • The artworks that are created in art therapy are tangible and therefore may be an important means of communication between the child and caregiver (Proulx, 2003).
  • Triadic art therapy can help the foster parent understand the foster child’s behaviour.
  • The therapist supports and assists foster children in understanding the intentions of their foster parents.
  • Triadic art therapy leads foster children to build their communication skills, learn to express their needs to their foster parents, and help construct their capacity for self-autonomy.
  • Triadic art therapy aims to strengthen the triad’s connection, and the child’s creativity can be a tool to help them through difficulties (Shore, 2014).


Carriere, J., & Richardson, C. (2009). From longing to belonging: Attachment theory, connectedness, and Indigenous children in Canada. In S. McKay, D. Fuchs, & I. Brown,(Eds.), Passion for action in child and family services: Voices from the prairies (pp. 49–67). Regina, SK: Canadian Plains Research Center.
Proulx, L. (2003). Strengthening emotional ties through parent-child dyad art therapy. London, UK: Jessica Kingsley Publishers Ltd.
Sun-Reid, H. (2012). Arthur’s journey: A case study of integrated therapy process.Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy (DDP).
Shore, A. (2014). Art Therapy, attachment, and the divided brain. Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, 31(2), pp. 91–94, doi: 10.1080/07421656.2014.903827