Many aspects of art therapy are influenced by and directly relate back to the Christian and Buddhist art of meditating and imagery. They focused on art as a healing factor for the world, rather than just the individual. This methodology has changed and further developed over time. Hundreds of years ago European writers recorded the spontaneous artwork done by patients in mental institutions (Ganim 23). They concluded that this work served as a form of expression for the emotions felt by the patients that could not have otherwise been expressed in words or in a traditional form of therapy. These paintings and drawings revealed parts of the inner-self, and were representative of traumatic occurrences that may have taken place in that particular person's life. From this, they began to experiment with different art modalities, and in different settings.
The development of modern day art therapy has greatly changed from its original concept. " In its formative years in the U.S., from the early 1930's through the middle 1950's, art therapy was practiced by fine artists and art educators in medical, psychiatric and educational facilities" (Art Therapy Overview). The use of art as therapy had been around for hundreds of years, but had not been recognized as an actual artistic therapeutic process. "These artists, and their medical and educational colleagues, discovered that non-verbal and pre-verbal patients "came alive" as they made art, and the "language" of the art, i.e., the symbolic image, could be understood. Art opened windows and doors into the psyche" (Art Therapy Overview). The new forms of expression allowed for a deeper understanding between the patient and the therapist. Often times individuals are unable to express themselves through formal means of communication, and the art serves as a way to break down those communicational barriers. The idea of art as therapy has been drawn and influenced by areas such as psychology, sociology, physiology, education, and psychiatric counseling. As a psychotherapy practice, art therapy spans the same theoretical landscapes as psychology, social work, and counseling. "It reflects the history and development of psychotherapy in general, including changing understanding and preferences in modern practice" (Art Therapy Overview). This belief, though it may be difficult to understand, connects aspects of the soul that may have been lost as a result of instances in ones life.