Art therapy is a relatively young discipline that employs artistic methods and creative expression within a psychotherapeutic relationship. In this blog post, we answer some of the most frequently asked questions regarding art therapy, its history, and its scope of practice.

What is Art Therapy? Who is it for? What are the benefits? How can it help me or my family?

Our professional Art Therapists are here to answer all your questions… And no! you do not need any prior art experience to benefit from art therapy.

What is Art Therapy?

Art therapy employs the creative process of art-making to improve and enhance the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of individuals of all ages. CREATE’s licensed art therapists provide confidential, professional, compassionate support to enhance the emotional well-being of children, teens, and adults living with mental and physical challenges, including anxiety, depression, substance abuse, trauma, grief, developmental disabilities, autism, and other conditions.

As defined by the American Art Therapy Association, “art therapy is an integrative mental health and human services profession that enriches the lives of individuals, families, and communities through active art-making, creative process, applied psychological theory, and human experience within a psychotherapeutic relationship” (AATA, 2017).

Art therapy is based on the belief that the creative process involved in artistic self-expression improves overall well-being, helps people build new connections, reduces stress, increases self-esteem, enhances self-awareness, and often leads to transformation and growth. Creating art facilitates communication and expression in a way that is not always possible with words alone. Although talking about the art is not necessary, it is often an important part of the process.

Benefits of Art Therapy

  • Build Coping Skills
  • Foster self-awareness
  • Build self-esteem
  • Manage behaviors and addictions
  • Safely explore feelings
  • Reduce anxiety and depression
  • Improve physical and emotional well-being

When was Art Therapy Established?

Art and creativity are essential aspects of human nature, rooted in our needs to express ourselves and make sense of our experiences and the world around us. Although visual expression has been used for healing throughout history, art therapy did not emerge as a distinct profession until the mid-twentieth century.

In the early twentieth century, psychiatrists and artists started showing interest in the artwork created by mentally ill patients hospitalized in psychiatric facilities in Europe. At around the same time, educators started noticing that children’s art expressions often reflected their levels of developmental, emotional, and cognitive growth. By mid-century, hospitals, clinics, and rehabilitation centers increasingly began to include art therapy programs along with traditional “talk therapies,” underscoring the recognition that the creative process of art-making enhanced recovery, health, and wellness.

As a result, the profession of art therapy grew into an effective and important method of communication, assessment, and treatment with children and adults in a variety of settings. The British Association of Art Therapists and the American Art Therapy Association were founded in 1964 and 1969 respectively. Currently, the field of art therapy has gained attention in health-care facilities throughout the United States and within psychiatry, psychology, counseling, education, and the arts.

Why is Art Therapy Special?

In contrast to other mental health professions, art therapy has a uniquely visual component. Art (the creation and reflection process) is used to help people explore emotions, develop self-awareness, cope with stress, boost self-esteem, and work on social skills. In an art therapy session, you may draw on paper, paint on canvas, make a clay sculpture, create a mask out of plaster, or make a mixed media collage. Art therapy provides a supportive space for people to utilize the creative process to explore self-expression, gain insight, and develop new coping skills. By exploring their art with a therapist, people often discover themes and conflicts that may be affecting their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.

Who Are Art Therapists?

Art therapists are important members of the healing arts profession. Art therapists are experienced master-level professionals that are trained to work with people of all ages across a broad spectrum of practice. Guided by ethical standards and scope of practice, their education and supervised training prepare them for culturally proficient work with diverse populations in a variety of settings. Honoring individuals’ values and beliefs, art therapists work with people who are challenged with medical and mental health problems, as well as individuals seeking emotional, creative, and spiritual growth.

Our Art Therapy Team

Gwendolyn Short, MA, ATR-BC, LCPAT

Gwendolyn Short, MA, ATR-BC, LCPAT is CREATE’s Art Therapy Director and Director of our Studio Downstairs program. Before joining CREATE in 2015, Gwen served as Founder and CEO of Cradle of Art, a community art center in Capitol Heights, Maryland and worked for the Prince George’s County Health Department for more than 30 years specializing in addictions, mental health and rehabilitation services. A member of the American Art Therapy Association’s Board of Directors, Gwen also assisted with the creation of the film Wheels of Diversity: Pioneers of Color in Art Therapy. She is a recipient of AATA’s Clinician Award for Outstanding Contributions to Clinical work with Adults.

Lisa Pascal, MA, ATR-P

Lisa Pascal, MA, ATR-P is CREATE’s Art Therapy Program Manager. A mixed-media artist, emerging professional art therapist, and lifelong Montgomery County resident, Lisa began her journey at CREATE Arts Center in 2016 as a volunteer, and quickly transitioned to teaching artist, eventually becoming director of CREATE’s smARTkids™ program before going back to school to obtain her master’s degree in Art Therapy from George Washington University. Lisa has always been fascinated by the healing aspect of art and remembers tapping into its therapeutic value as a young child when she would retreat to her easel and paint to soothe herself. She holds a BA in Cultural Anthropology from the University of Maryland and appreciates the potential of the arts to transcend language barriers and communicate across diverse cultures. She aligns with a person-centered approach and is passionate about using the visual arts to support the development and well-being of all individuals.

Sheila Kelleher Berman

Sheila Berman, a graduate of George Washington University’s Art Therapy master’s program, has worked with seniors, children, and teens.  A mixed media and textile artist herself, Sheila is passionate about using the power of art for healing and resiliency, mood regulation, focus, and self-esteem.  She approaches art therapy from a positive, strengths-based view and believes that anyone can use art can for help and growth.

Tamar Hendel, MA, ATR-BC, LCPAT

Tamar Hendel, MA, ATR-BC, LCPAT is a teacher, artist, art therapist, and CREATE’s Founder. Art changed Tamar’s life when she was a young Jewish girl in hiding during World War II and her mother and teachers encouraged her to make art. Years later, this inspired her to found CREATE Arts Center in 1986 to bring the pleasure and healing power of the arts to others. Tamar retired as CREATE’s Executive Director in 2010 but continues to bring her vivid and expressive techniques to enhance cognitive, behavioral, and emotional expression for art therapy clients of all ages. In 2010 Tamar was recognized with the Montgomery County Executive’s Lifetime Achievement in the Arts award.


Min Shin, MA, LGPAT, LGPC, is a bilingual art therapist (English and Korean) who has worked with diverse populations in ages, settings, and goals. It makes Min feel special that she fulfilled professional Master’s training in art therapy at George Washington University with her fine art undergraduate background at MICA. She uses various creative ways of art-making process and communicating through visual expressions that offer clients safe space, encouragements, validations, self-awareness, growths, and healing power. Min values therapeutic relationships and empathetic communications to understand one another as important parts of interactions.

Who Can Benefit from Art Therapy?

Everyone! Young children, adolescents, adults, seniors, couples, and groups can all benefit from the healing properties of creating art. You do not need to consider yourself an artist and no technical skills or special talents are required, only the willingness to create.

Authored by CREATE’s Art Therapy Team