Art Educational Therapy

Origins of Art Educational Therapy

Unnur Ottarsdottir is the author of art educational therapy (AET). The development of AET began around 1994 and the theory and methods of AET were originated over the years 1999-2000, in relation to Ottarsdottir’s doctoral research. She has written about the AET research and published the findings internationally in many of the world’s leading journals in the field.

What is Art Educational Therapy?

The same basic theories and methods are applied in art educational therapy (AET) as are generally applied in art therapy, in addition to a focus on education. Coursework learning is integrated into art therapy in AET through art making, and specific learning difficulties are observed in relation to emotional difficulties. The individual’s verbal expressions and actions are viewed as forms of expression including coursework learning. Emotions, experiences, thoughts and rational thinking are worked with in AET through art making, writing and coursework learning within the therapeutic relationship, with the aim of enhancing emotional well-being and facilitating coursework learning.

Coursework Learning in Art Educational Therapy

Coursework subjects are integrated into art therapy in art educational therapy (AET) through art making, direct teaching, writing and discussion, with the aim of facilitating coursework learning and enhancing emotional well-being. Traditional coursework learning subjects, such as mathematics, reading, writing, grammar, social studies, physics and chemistry, are worked with in AET.

Psychological Aspects

Trauma and difficult experiences can cause specific learning difficulties. Individuals who grapple with specific learning difficulties often experience complicated emotions in regard to their learning and schooling. Emotions that arise when individuals are unable to master coursework learning, the inability to keep up with peers and the experience of being “different” can make the learning even more difficult. An individual’s self-confidence can also suffer due to specific learning difficulties. Emotions of this kind are worked with in art educational therapy.

The Therapeutic Relationship

In art educational therapy the client’s artwork, emotions and thoughts are accepted as they are. The therapist endeavours to provide understanding and encouragement, for example in relation to the client’s coursework learning. In that way, the art making process within the therapeutic relationship benefits self-esteem and emotional well-being, which in turn facilitates coursework learning.

The Creative Process

Art making is worked with in art educational therapy (AET) within the therapeutic relationship, in a similar way as in art therapy. In addition, coursework learning and emotional processing are intertwined through the art making. In AET a different medium is applied from what is customary in education. Rather than mainly applying letters and numbers, the approach is to a large degree visual and pictorial, which better suits many individuals who struggle with specific learning difficulties. Individuals who deal with specific learning difficulties often find it easier to engage with projects which include visual thinking rather than solely using words. Art making also integrates playfulness into coursework learning, which in turn can make the coursework learning process increasingly manageable and enjoyable.