Shared Vision article
March 2005 uncommon healer
Where Health and Art Meet
by Lori Nelson
WHO: Marty Levenson, diploma in art therapy, registered art therapist with 10 years’ experience, provides group and individual art therapy at his Vancouver studio (218–111 West Broadway).

QUICK TAKE: “Art therapy is a form of psychotherapy that includes and values the process of making images and reflecting on their significance,” says Levenson. “Creating visual art, rather than using
only words as a means of expression, encourages a shift in how we think about ourselves and our lives. As pictures and sculpturesmake our inner lives concrete and visible, unresolved conflicts can be revisited in a new way.”

HOW IT WORKS: “Therapeutic art may start with a dream, a memory, a feeling, an idea, a body sensation, or simply the urge to doodle,” says Levenson. “Clients then use clay and paint to expand on these beginnings by giving them a physical form,” he says. “As we work, our hands sometimes seem to have something to say, and the art takes on a life of its own, and the curiosity this evokes
opens the door to insightful surprises as we engage the psyche in this new way.” Levenson explains that metaphor is significant in art therapy. “A client’s small clay umbrella, created to ward off a father’s criticisms, may also become the gear on a shaft that brings the power to where it is needed,” he says. “In the art, there is no need to decide the umbrella is one thing or the other. It’s deeply satisfying to discover that an image we have created can help us connect the past to the present in a useful way, and so make better sense of our lives.”

MAINSTREAM VS ALTERNATIVE: “Art therapy tends to value process and creativity as part of the therapy far more than do traditional therapies rooted in the medical model,” Levenson says. “The values of many therapies overlap, and art therapy is not a theoretical orientation or philosophy; it is the use of art and creative process in psychotherapy.” He adds that art therapy is helpful for a variety of issues commonly dealt with in the mainstream model. “Those facing grief, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, trauma, sexual abuse, or addiction have often found relief and courage through their imagery. Others who are working on their relationships, exploring their dreams, or seeking renewed meaning and creativity in their lives have found the depth of art therapy effective and surprising.”

BIGGEST MISCONCEPTION: “The depth and adaptability of working with art therapy is frequently misunderstood,” says Levenson. Art therapy is more concerned with the process and the creative experience than with making a beautiful product, he notes. “Drawing an ugly picture can be an important expression. Feeling safe is central: Art is not critiqued, judged, or analyzed, and the clients’ limits are always respected.”

CASE HISTORY: Levenson worked as a professional artist for 12 years while exploring his other passion, psychology. He says that art therapy has been the perfect merging of these two paths. “It’s great to go to work and constantly be surprised,” says Levenson. “Who can predict what someone will dream, or what images will emerge?”

PERSONAL FILE: A transplant from Cleveland, Ohio, since 1980, Levenson can sometimes be found sailing in the Gulf Islands, restoring an old sailboat, or designing art and therapy-related websites. He can be reached at 604.736.1972 or for more information see.