Art Therapist Explains Art Therapy: A Guide

On episode 36 of YouthSpeak’s SpeakReal podcast, Carson spoke with David (goes by Dave) Cho who is a registered Psychotherapist and Art Therapist. In Dave’s private practice, he works primarily with children, youth and families. He is also an Instructor at Humber College and the Toronto Art Therapy Institute.

Why Art Therapy?

Art therapy essentially taps into what it means to be human. Dave believes this wholeheartedly and shares one of his favourite quotes,

“Creativity is humanity, to create is to be human.”

And this isn’t limited to creativity like art and writing. Dave explains that even what clothing we choose to wear every morning, what music we enjoy listening to, how we cook our meals, all of these things are ways in which we express our creativity every day. 

What is Art Therapy? How Does it Work?

To put it simply, Dave says that,

“[Art therapy] combines the creative process and psychotherapy.”

He explains that art therapy runs very deep, making use of various materials such as colours and shapes as part of it.

And by doing so,

“It facilitates self-exploration, expression, understanding, knowing yourself, knowing how you fit into the world”.

Additionally, through art therapy, participants can give context to their experiences and feelings which they may find empowering. Reflecting on this point, Dave says,

“Artwork is a snapshot of our inner process in that moment.”

Art Therapy Exercise and Mental Health – Dave’s Favourite Exercise

While there are many art therapy exercises to choose from, Dave says his favorite is bilateral art intervention or simulation. This is where participants use both their hands to create art instead of just their dominant hand.

He says,

“When we start using our non-dominant hand in conjunction and we’re creating artwork together it’s really grounding and it feels different…because now we’re actually in different parts of our brain and it gets us out of our comfort zone.”

To expand further, Dave’s dominant hand is his right hand. So when he uses his left hand to do art, he does it without judgment as he knows that he is not used to it. Who knew how much of an impact using our non-dominant hand could have on our mental health!? 

Overcoming Struggles using Art Therapy 

Dave is of Korean ethnic background. He says that growing up in a marginalized community, he often felt Othered. He was also diagnosed with depression and anxiety. Being in that space brought him towards creativity and artwork. Dave was constantly drawing from early in his childhood. Through art, Dave was able to find his resilience and voice. Not only was art grounding for Dave, but he was able to find a sense of community through it.

He says,

“Artwork was the one tether for me that helped me find like minded people”.. Now, in full circle, he is giving back to the community through his role as a faculty member at Toronto Art Therapy Institute.”

Being Slow and Still in a Fast-Paced World

Dave says,

“To be slow, be still and move forward is the best advice I’ve received”.

Living in Toronto means that Dave is constantly exposed to a vibrant but fast-paced lifestyle. That can make it hard to be present in the moment.

“Asking yourself, am I truly present? That is something I am trying to make space for in my life.”

Art Expression is NOT “Just for Kids”

The idea that art is somehow “just for kids” is a stereotype that Dave actively and passionately disproves.

He says art and creative expression can look like:

  • How you choose to dress
  • What foods you enjoy cooking
  • What music you listen to
  • and more things you may not consider!

In becoming an adult, people tend to lose their childlike curiosity of the world. Being childlike and being childish are two terms that often get put into the same box, but Dave believes they are different. Dave also has noted in his practice that coming back into a childlike nature through art therapy is beneficial to adults, especially parents.

“I think bringing parents to a childlike place allows them to be playful…If you want to see the world as your kids see it, let’s get playful.”

Interested in Art Therapy? Start Here

For anyone interested in getting into art therapy, or even just curious to learn more about it, Dave highlighted the following Canadian resources to access:

Watch the full episode here: 

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