Since the beginning of time, humans have turned to the arts for solace, inspiration, and renewal. With the birth and development of psychology and psychiatry in the 20th century, people rediscovered the healing power of the arts. In the United States, the fields of art, dance, drama, and music therapy came into being in the 1940s, and became recognized professions over the next few decades. While they have been formal disciplines for a relatively short time, they have rapidly developed in clinical sophistication.
Though any participation in the arts is inherently therapeutic —whether by viewing or active engagement — the expressive arts therapies involve the intentional and disciplined use of the arts for purposes of growth and healing. Arts therapists are specialists in helping people to cope with life’s challenges and traumas as well as their ongoing well-being through the use of the healing power of the arts. Practitioners are trained at the masters or doctoral level in psychology, psychopathology, assessment, research, and treatment.
Although the arts therapies were initially developed in psychiatry, and are still found in psychiatric hospitals and outpatient treatment programs, they are also practiced in education, medicine, rehabilitation, corrections, and a variety of other settings in the community with people of all ages and abilities.