Arts therapies

Explains what arts therapies are, what they are for, what happens during therapy and how to find a therapist.

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What are arts therapies?

Please note: These pages cover regulated arts therapies. They do not cover unregulated therapeutic activities such as writing or reading groups, or doing arts recreationally by yourself or in a group, without the support of a therapist.

Arts (or creative) therapies involve using the arts in a therapeutic environment with a trained therapist.

The different types of regulated of arts therapies include:

  • dance movement therapy
  • dramatherapy
  • music therapy
  • visual art therapy

You do not need to have any artistic skill or previous experience of dance, drama, music or visual art to find arts therapies helpful. The aim isn't to produce a great work of art, but to use what you create to understand yourself better.

What can I expect from arts therapies?

In arts therapy, your therapist helps you to create something — such as a piece of music, a drawing, a play or a dance routine — as a way of expressing your feelings, often without using words.

[It] helps me when I struggle to find the words when I'm too angry, despairing or confused to know what I think. It gives me a voice.

Your therapist will guide you in thinking about what you have created and how it relates to your feelings and experiences. This can help you come to terms with any difficult feelings, events or memories that may be causing you problems.

Like all therapies, arts therapies aren't for everyone. And you may find that one kind of art therapy is more helpful than others. It's about finding what works best for you.

How are arts therapies regulated?

Music therapy, dance movement therapy, dramatherapy and visual art therapy all have recognised professional bodies which provide regulation and codes of practice for their members (see Useful Contacts).

Arts therapists are expected to maintain professional standards and must be registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC).

Where are arts therapies offered?

Arts therapies are offered in a wide range of settings including:

  • hospitals
  • private practice
  • therapy centres
  • residential care
  • day centres

Arts therapy sessions can take place in a one-to-one setting or within a group. If you feel isolated, or find it difficult to get to know people, you may find group arts therapy helpful. If you feel more comfortable sharing your thoughts and feelings with just your therapist, you might prefer one-to-one sessions.

I had art therapy as part of a combination of therapies for six months as part of a group... [I]t was really interesting to look back at the end of the six months at how our art work had changed as we got more used to the experience, and with different thoughts and feelings.

For more information on accessing arts therapies, see our page on finding an arts therapist.


This information was published in 2016. We will revise it in 2019.


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