History of Art Therapy

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About the History of Art Therapy

The History of Art Therapy is filled with interesting developments and characters. Read on to learn more!

Art therapy brings together the healing powers of art with the application and principles in psychotherapy to help clients and patients with mental, emotional, and physical issues. Historically, art has been a method of communication in human history for thousands of years; art has often been used as a form of self-expression, conflict resolution, and problem solving throughout the existence of mankind. Therefore the history of art therapy goes back long before there were training programs and certification and licensing requirements for art therapists. In the 1700’s some psychiatrists began using the arts in various modes of psychiatric treatment known as “the moral treatment(1).” The use of art in therapy developed into a professional discipline around the 1940’s when therapists in both the United States and English speaking countries in Europe began to complete and release studies discussing the influence of the arts on psychotherapy(2).

The field of art therapy continued to ripen and grow after the discipline was formally established. Master’s degree programs in art therapy began to emerge in the mid-twentieth century just as the art therapy field was evolving. Drexel University began offering one of the first available graduate art therapy program in the late 1960’s(3). New York University also offered one of the first art therapy programs in the country in the mid 1970’s(4). In the 1950’s, Margaret Naumburg, a pioneer in art therapy, taught classes in art professions at NYU’s graduate school(5). Edith Kramer, another art therapy trail-blazer came to NYU in 1973 to develop their Art Therapy Master’s Program(6).

Edith Kramer

Edith Kramer, a well-respected and internationally known pioneer in art therapy history was born in Vienna Austria in 1916. Kramer studied art in Vienna before she immigrated to the United States as in 1938. Edith Kramer believed in art as therapy and was given the title of art therapist while working at the Wiltwycks School for Boys where she used art therapy to work with young boys with mental health issues. Kramer wrote several books about her experiences with art therapy in her career and even founded the Graduate Program in Art Therapy at NYU. Kramer is credited with developed the “art therapist third hand intervention” concept which instructed art therapists to be flexible in assisting their patient’s through the use of art therapy.(7)

Margaret Naumburg

Margaret Naumburg, a well-known pioneer in the field of art therapy, was born in 1882 in New York City. Naumburg is a pivotal figure in art therapy history; she is often referred to as the founder of art therapy. Naumburg spent most of her life’s work establishing art therapy as a professional discipline and developed the dynamically oriented art therapy approach. Naumburg began establishing the use of art as a modality in therapy in the 1940’s and taught art professional classes at NYU in the 1950’s. Naumburg, a published author, promoted art in therapy and was instrumental in establishing art therapy as a professional discipline(8).

Art Therapy History by Decade

The history of art therapy can be tracked throughout the centuries. Although art has long been used by individuals as a form of expression, the history of the distinct profession of art therapy began more recently after some psychiatrists began using the arts in various methods of their psychiatric treatment in the 1800’s. It quickly emerged that there was a healing benefit of art that when used in conjunction with psychotherapy could be beneficial to certain patients. It was later in the 1900’s when art therapy began to emerge as a professional discipline. Art therapy became more wide spread and common-place in the second half of the 1900’s when colleges and universities began offering various degree programs in art therapy. By the end of the twentieth century art therapy was being used to help countless individuals all over the world. In the 2000’s and today art therapy is an established and well-respected profession.

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