«The true meaning of art is not to create beautiful objects. It is rather a method to understand. A way to penetrate the world and find your own place.»

Paul aster, writer

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What is art therapy?

Art therapy is understood as an umbrella term for psychotherapeutically oriented forms of therapy that work with creative, artistic means. This includes five different, state-recognised specialisations:


  • Visual art therapy
  • Dance movement therapy
  • Drama and language therapy
  • Intermedial art therapy
  • Music therapy

Singing and music, painting, designing and moving enable people to find an expression for their experiences and their own feelings. The therapeutic approach is holistic and individual, with the aim of activating existing resources and promoting the self-regulation of the person on a spiritual, mental, physical and social level. Art therapy strengthens autonomy, activates self-healing powers and supports personal development processes.

Visual art therapy

Painting and sculpture enable one to become involved in the process, putting one’s self in the picture, as it were. They offer direct access, through the senses, to one’s present state, resources, personal issues and/or disorders. Focusing on the visual creative process enables an in-depth analysis of the self and one’s environment, utilizing colours and shapes to foster expression of that which cannot be expressed verbally in words. Visual Art Therapy fosters creative strategies for solving problems, encourages experimentation and improves the capability of dealing effectively with internal and external circumstances.

Dance movement therapy

Closer examination of and with the physical, emotional and subtle body are key components of dance and movement therapy. Through improvisation and creativity, new possibilities are created for experiencing the body in an extended range of movement and through an increased awareness of its individuality. The therapy fosters immediate preverbal, nonverbal and verbal expression and communication with the environment. It enables an experience-oriented approach to personal issues and illnesses through the senses, enhancing one’s creativity and ability to react. A healthy dynamic is regained in dance and movement therapy.

Drama- and language therapy

Therapeutic work with language and drama specifically applies language, gestures, drama and creativity for therapeutic purposes. An imaginary reality is playfully created with language, then explored and perceived through the senses and extended and transformed into an artistic-therapeutic process. Language and drama therapy encourages interest in the inner and outer world, self-reflection and creative strategies for solving problems and explores one’s own artistic-therapeutic process in language and gestures. Changes, which occur, also extend to the restoration of a healthy self-regulation of posture, breathing, voice and articulation.

Intermedial art therapy

Intermedial art therapy combines the various media contained within the creative arts (visual art, music, movement, drama and theater, sculpture, performance, new media) in order to accordingly be used as a preventive measure or as accompaniment and support to people in crisis and/or rehabilitation thus enhancing physical, mental and emotional well-being. Perception via the senses is multifaceted and can tap into a wealth of personal resources and approaches to solving problems. An integral part of this discipline is the provision of different artistic media, which are combined and linked to attain depth and personal growth.

Music therapy

Music creates movement, awakens emotions and can be used to express emotions. It opens doors to a person’s innermost being. Music is created through constant change and can therefore play a special role in personal development and growth. Through playful experimentation with instruments and the voice, as well as implementing the musical elements of melody, harmony and rhythm, a creative therapeutic process is set in motion, a process, which has a stabilizing, constructive and healing effect on the body, mind and spirit. Through music, a dialogue of the senses is created not only between the music therapist and client, but also between the members of a group.

In a hospital, art therapists are part of a multidisciplinary treatment team. The appropriate measures are discussed in the caring team and adapted to the individual needs of the patients according to their age, possibilities and inclinations.


Since 2011, the title of qualified art therapist (ED) has been recognised and protected as an independent profession by the Federal Office for Professional Education (OPET). The examination is organised by OdA ARTECURA under the supervision of the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI).

Indications for art therapy with children and adolescents

For young in-patients, a stay in hospital is a significant and often painful event. In addition to the various medical interventions, there is the fear of the unknown, the pain, the separation from family and friends, and all this in an aseptic, unfamiliar and changing environment. A serious illness or accident affects every aspect of a child’s being: physically, emotionally and psychologically. Young patients lose quality of life. Art therapy reaches sick children where injections and medication cannot. They help young patients to express their emotions through the imagination and various artistic means such as the plastic and visual arts or music. As reported by the World Health Organisation (p.29-36), these gentle, non-invasive therapies promote and accelerate the healing process and have a positive long-term effect on the health of young patients and their families. These therapies enable them to better understand what they are going through, manage their fears, reduce stress and gain confidence. 

Treatment areas:

(List not exhaustive)


Effect of art therapy

In premature and newborn infants:

Adaptation and failure to thrive, nutritional disorders, congenital malformations (e.g. heart defects), disorders of brain development, infections.

Promoting brain development, improving breathing, reducing stress, strengthening the parent-child relationship.
High-risk pregnancies, breastfeeding problems, bonding difficulties Relaxation, inner peace, strengthening the parent-child relationship

Chronic diseases:

Heart diseases (e.g. congenital heart defects), respiratory diseases (e.g. asthma), metabolic diseases (e.g. diabetes), cancer (e.g. leukaemia), epilepsy, skin diseases, allergies, congenital malformations and disabilities.

Actively confront the disease, alleviate the symptoms of the disease, express suffering without words, find one’s own resources, draw strength, find distance from suffering.

Acute diseases:

Infections (e.g. pneumonia, meningitis, sepsis)
Surgical interventions,

Psychosomatic diseases and disorders:

Eating disorders (obesity, anorexia, bulimia), mental illnesses, behavioural disorders (anxiety, aggression, regression, depression, borderline syndrome)

Expressing what is experienced, being aware of the body and body image, improving self-esteem, increasing quality of life

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