COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — When the words won't come, therapist Tara Alexander has an idea for her patients.
How about drawing? she might ask. Or painting? Or clay sculpting? The possibilities are endless from the cupboard in her Colorado Springs office, filled with markers, colored pencils, brushes, yarn, tinsel, pipe cleaners, bits of wood and textile, beads, confetti, googly eyes, jingle bells and on and on.
"Let's create something," Alexander might say.
"Some people are like, No way, this is too weird," she says. "Maybe 10%."
Most are willing to try anything to heal. Art has that power, Alexander insists, along with her fellow therapists certified to apply this particular practice.
Alexander is one of three dozen specialists listed by the Colorado Art Therapy Association. The group is an affiliate of the national organization committed to raising awareness of the profession, which, simply put, "uses the creative process to improve and enhance the physical, mental and emotional well-being of individuals of all ages," according to the association's website.
The association maintains art therapy is used to treat anxiety, depression, trauma, loss and victims of substance abuse and domestic violence, among others.
"The act itself is therapeutic in that it transports us away from our daily stresses," the association states. And during the act, "we may inadvertently experience emotional expression, understanding of ourselves and moments of personal insight into problems."
A therapist is meant to be a guide in those moments. But the treatment is believed to be deeply rooted in humanity, turned to long before clinics.
Research has focused on Indigenous cultures that have acknowledged the mental and emotional significance of art, dance, music and storytelling. In Western culture, art therapy emerged as a profession in the 1940s, around the time educators were increasingly connecting children's artwork with their developmental growth.