I went to a very interesting lecture today by Christine Volney who is an Art Therapist in North Wales.She  is HPC state registered and also registered with the BAAT as an art psychotherapist. She came to talk to us about what it is like being an AT, what the requirements are, the training etc and what it is and what it isnt…..

Art therapy was developed by a guy called Adrian Hill in 1951, who she thought was either a war artist or a Dr.He was the pioneer of it, and took it into the hospitals to help people back from war, and to help them overcome trauma and shock.In 1982 AT became recognised as a clinical profession and in 1999 it got recognised by the HPC, and state registration is now inforced to anyone that wants to call themselves an AT.

AT can be found in

  • schools
  • forensics settings
  • social services
  • community teams
  • general and psychiatric hospitals
  • palliative care
  • hospices
  • CAMHS (child and adolescent mental health)
  • learning disabilities
  • substance misuse

The Aim of AT

is to

  • enable a client to effect change and growth on a personal level, understanding the self, relationships and behaviour, through the use of materials in a safe and facilitating environment
  • to develop a relationship of trust between the client and the AT
  • to enable patients to share thoughts and feelings through AT work
  • to use AT work for self-expression and communicate things that are difficult to say in words
  • to develop and enjoy a sense of creativity

The creative Process –

  • It is all about the process and not the finished product – she said it was hard to get people to not be concerned about the finished result and that a lot of people think they are bad at art as most people stop developing at aged 12. – hence the drawings are child like.
  • the visual language predates the verbal and also facilitates a different range of expression
  • processes involve facing anxiety, fears, taking risks, decision-making, relationships. control, self-esteem and playing ( you must have had AT yourself as part of the training)
  • the art provides a concrete record which can be reflected on at different stages on the therapy – it does not have to have a ‘fixed’ meaning’

The Art Materials

  • using the art materials allows us to make what is felt or to find out how we might feel.
  • control, freedom spontaneity (some kids hit clay with rolling-pin or stab it with a pen)
  • different experiences, sense them through our physical self
  • mind and body link – the way we handle the materials expresses bodily tensions or relaxation
  • non directive – challenging or supportive in encouragement from the art therapist.

AT as a 3 way relationship – if you imagine a triangle, with the AT at one point, the client at another and the piece of art at another, and all 3 communicate back and forwards to each other.

She said it was sometimes hard to put across t client that there was no amount of skill involved and no judgements, the work isn’t evaluated, but it does say something about you.The AT provides all the materials, and encourages and supports the client, and is in attendance during the sessions.

AT Myths

Christine compared an art class with AT, and told us that the class would be encouraging in the art process, and would be used as a diversion from the clients issues, a past time, and the person would use art to maybe express their emotions but not necessarily deep ones.The class is a very directed activity, and there is a finished product, it tends to be a social group, with flexible boundaries and you learn new skills, there is a definite sense of empowerment from a class.

On the other hand AT is al about giving the client the following:-

  • space and time
  • boundaries (time and structure)
  • trust and safety
  • stick to time
  • consistency
  • choice and individuality
  • confidentiality
  • management of strong emotions
  • impartial information giving
  • art classes tend to be broad on their approach where as AT is very specific

AT as a career


They have started running the course in Chester, which is great as there weren’t many around before.The problem is thought that there is no funding which is a shame and so money has to be found to go on the course. It is 3 years p/time and 2 years full time.One of the requirements is that you must have counseling whilst on the course, and also have to have AT sessions. Christine herself did not get accepted the first time she applied to do the course because she needed more experience of working with social groups so she went and worked with voluntary groups at a local hospital and ran pottery groups on hspitals.Her degree was in ceramics and pottery, so that answered my question about whether or not you had to have a degree in fine art to do it.

The journal for AT is called INSCAPE and there is a good booklet called ‘Arts in Health and Well being – an action plan for wales’ which she said is worth reading

i enjoyed the talk, i did pretty much know what an AT is as i have been interested in it for a while, but it really made me realise that i may have to leave all my illustration behind if that was what i wanted to do. I do have training in counselling and i also work as a Life Coach, as well as being a Teacher – i think i may find that some of these will help me and some may hinder me but it is food for thought!!!