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More on Art Educational Therapy


Art education therapy (AET) is partly based on theories and methods concerning “writing-images”, where letters and images are intertwined. For many young children, reading and mathematics learning begins with play, which involves the process of writing-images during the period before they develop knowledge about the phonetics and symbols that make up the letters of the alphabet. This learning process of writing-images is spontaneous and takes place without formal education. In this way, children learn naturally and effortlessly through drawing images of numbers and the letters of the alphabet. In AET the individual learns coursework in a similar way, naturally and effortlessly, through art making.

Writing-images are seen as an essential foundation for studies later in life. These childhood writing-image methods are applied in AET for older students who are dealing with specific learning difficulties in order to strengthen the foundation that underpins their studies. Individuals with specific learning difficulties are offered the chance to playfully create writing-images in AET with the aim of reclaiming the learning skills rooted in the early stimulus of writing-images. The creation of writing-images, along with other pictorial creations made within the therapeutic relationship, can facilitate coursework learning and enhance emotional well-being whereby writing-images can be a path for emotional processing, like in art therapy in general.

Memory Drawings

Memory drawing is part of art educational therapy (AET). Such drawing can involve images on their own but words can also be connected to them in diverse ways. Memory drawing aids individuals in better memorizing various facts related to their studies, for example spelling, translations of foreign words and facts connected to coursework subjects. A quantitative study conducted by Unnur Ottarsdottir showed that, over long time periods, it is generally five times easier to recall drawn images of word content than written words. The study was the first comprehensive study that systematically compared the effect on memory of drawing word content and writing words. In addition to aiding memory retention, memory drawing can facilitate processing of emotions and difficult experiences in the same way as the art-making process within art therapy. The study was the first comprehensive study that systematically compared the effect on memory of drawing word content and writing words.  See further information here.

The Setting of Art Educational Therapy

The setting for art educational therapy is the same as for art therapy. The therapist is bound to confidentiality and he/she provides a safe space for the client, who attends the therapy sessions regularly over a certain period of time.

In AET, individuals can work to improve their coursework learning concurrently with emotional processing within the same AET session. This arrangement provides a practical solution while lessening the effort of attending therapy sessions and special education classes at two separate locations.


23-year-old male:

“I participated in Unnur’s art educational therapy 10 years ago when I was 12. The therapy was tailored to my needs and it helped me learn and feel better. In the sessions, I used drawings to learn coursework subjects and express my emotions. Later, I developed a method on the basis of what I learned during the art educational therapy, where I used a visual environment to help get a grasp of words, phrases and foreign languages. I’ve managed to learn a number of languages by using this method, despite being dyslexic.”

Comments by mother of an 11-year-old boy:

“My son is dyslexic and he has received art therapy with Unnur for a while. He is very happy with the sessions, and when she showed him how he could make art together with learning English, he was all smiles at the end of the session.”