The Artist and The Art Therapist: Can they both live within you?

This post is for all you art therapists and artist out there, and art therapy students, as well as people curious about art therapy, art vs. therapy, and artists.

I will mainly pose questions rather than give any answers as this topic is meant to start a discussion or dialogue  about what it means to be an art therapist, and what it means to be an art therapist and an artist.

When you are out socializing and someone asks what you do for a living, do you say, “I’m an art therapist.” or do you say, “I’m an artist” or do you say, “I’m an artist and art therapist.” If you say both which one tends to come out of your mouth first?

Personally I’ve always, as long as I’ve been an art therapist, as I was an artist for years before that, tended to view myself as an artist who is also an art therapist, although that does not show up on art therapy profiles on insurance and other psychology, find a therapist, types of websites. More importantly even than what you tend to say to identify yourself is what you spend your time doing, what you value doing, and other questions. For example, do you make money as an art therapist, an artist or both? While I am often in exhibitions and sell my work and participate in the open studio tour in my neighborhood once a year, and even have my art therapy and psychotherapy private practice in my art studio, my consistent form of income comes from my private practice. However in terms of my identity, I think of myself first as an artist, maybe because that was the first vocation I ever felt called to do. Also making art is a necessity for me to stay stable and focused, not an option, so I manage to make time for it and value every minute spent making art even if I spend much more time with my patients than making art.

In graduate school for art therapy, I kept my studio and used it while being a full-time grad student. I noticed a pattern in my classmates that they for the most part seemed to put their artist identity to the side to focus on art therapy. Some of them even objected to making art in classes. During class I would doodle and draw in my notebook in order to pay attention to the discussion. It helped me focus. This was many years ago, and things seem to have changed. I come across many recent graduates as well as students who are actively making art and continue to participate in their profession as a professional artist,; they have websites of their artwork and exhibit and sell it.

I have colleagues who even plan and stage exhibitions of artwork in their studio/office, ArtSpa, so they have successfully integrated their practice and supporting artists with their shows. Over the years they have had many themed group invitational exhibitions, “Little Pieces”, “Trees”, “Home” and the last one which is up now until the end of the year: “Connections.” Their website is:

The link to their exhibition announcements is:

I’ll end this post by saying that as indicated by the last paragraphs are an indicator of where the field of art therapy is going in terms of supporting the identity of the artist within the art therapist. It looks like a very different landscape to me now than it was years ago when I began my work in the field, which is very heartening. Are you thinking of becoming an art therapist? Are you also an artist? What is your view of this topic? I would also add that I don’t want to neglect another category of art therapists, those who came to the field not as artists and who still make art with their patients but are not pursuing an art career. There is certainly room for all sorts of art therapists. Another related topic is: do you make art with your patients? If so, is this the only artwork you make, or does it inspire your personal artwork in any way? Is the art you make in any way related to  your work as an art therapist or completely separate?



6 thoughts on “The Artist and The Art Therapist: Can they both live within you?

  1. Enjoyed reading your many questions and hopefully it will engender discussion. Briefly, yes I do art, primarily on my own time. Any art I do in session is in response to or engaged with the client so I don’t think of it as “my” art- it belongs to the session. I think you will like wordpress. I have a blog here as well and you asked for those… I am sharing experiences from my Fulbright Scholar time in Ireland and will continue with my art therapy life at home once I return to the US. Good luck with your work and blogging.


  2. I believe that both the artist and art therapist can co-exist. Of course, it depends on the individual and their passion for art making. The beauty of personal art making is the development of increased empathy for our clients and how they experience the creation and discussion around their own artwork from therapy. The more involved we are in our own art, the more empathetic we are to clients and their art making.

    Although I am early in my art therapy career as a 1st year grad student, I entered the program with a BA in Art and have been working as a professional artist. I admit, my personal art making has not been at the forefront of my focus lately with my studies being my priority. Nonetheless, I have managed to squeeze in time to sketch and paint because I have an innate need to express myself through art; hence, the reason why I was drawn to this field. I found therapy through art.

    During the year I have made it a point to show my artwork at galleries and will continue to do so. My goal, as I continue my studies is to maintain both identities as an art therapist and artist.


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