A Brief History of Art Therapy

Art Therapy is relatively young approach. First in Europe and later in the United States, artists hired to entertain resident psychiatric patients realised that their actions had a very beneficial psychotherapeutic impact and began to make observations and document their intervention scientifically. Several professional journals were born; today there is an increasingly important specialised literature on this subject. Since the artists required the support of mostly psychoanalytically oriented psychiatrists, all art therapists to this day are trained in psychoanalysis and currently most of them rely on psychoanalytic rational of intervention to explain the effect of their work. Others however use the Jungian approach, the approach of object relations, Adlerian or Kleinian approach or the humanist approach.

It wasn’t until Janie Rhyne, in the 70s, that the humanist stream saw the birth of the Gestalt approach in art therapy. Innovating still further, Rhinehart and Engelhorn developed in the 80s the art process approach, adding principles of the Jungian approach into their rational of intervention. Instead of only focusing on the completed artwork, Rhinehart and Engelhorn also analysed the amplification of the line, the form or the color from the moment of their apparition on the paper, exploring the development of their direction and their movement until the inherent psychological meaning was revealed. They perceive the art therapist as a process specialist, who uses the observation of the process as the principal source of his or her interventions, while the meaning of the work belongs to the client, in a typically humanist point of view perceived as the expert on his or her own life experience.

In Quebec, many francophone art therapists have been trained in this approach, first in the Institut de formation professionnelle en psychothérapie par l’art (Institute of professional training in psychotherapy through art) from 1995 to 2005, where the two most prominent teachers have been trained by Rhinhart and Engelhorn (at the Eagle Rock Trail Art Therapy Institute of Santa Rosa in California, which before becoming independent was affiliated with the Sonoma University); later also at the Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue, where art therapy through process approach is also taught since programs were developed in 1997. Concordia University was the first university to offer an art therapy program in Quebec, starting in 1980.