In sessions with clients, I would pair the directive or non-directive approaches with variety of materials to get the emotions and thoughts expressed, exchanged, and explored effectively. For example, I would provide my younger aged clients - aged 5 to 10 years old - or mental development delayed/challenged clients with more structured "not messy" materials to be creative. Whereas, I would provide my more mature clients, aged above 18 or mentally developed as adults with more freedom of options to choose their favorite art materials to explore during the day of the session.
Both directive and non-directive approaches are valuable and powerful, choosing which one to apply often depending on the particular individual/couples that I am working with, the goals they want to achieve, interests, and personal preferences. Most of the time, I have been offering clients make spontaneous response art in the form of doodles, scribbles, drawings, paintings, collages, digital art (digital mandalas, story board, and etc.), sculptures, and free writings.
You may ask, what the therapist doing here? What is the difference between an art class and an art therapy session? As Art Therapy Credential Board explained, "Art therapists are trained in both art and therapy. The process isn’t an art lesson – it is grounded in the knowledge of human development, psychological theories, and counseling techniques.
A master’s degree is required for entry-level practice in art therapy. Minimum educational and professional standards are established by the American Art Therapy Association, Inc. (AATA), a membership and advocacy organization." Therapists can utilize trained therapeutic techniques to facilitate access to certain part of the brain, encourage uncensored symbolic communications, authentic expressions, reduce unwanted thoughts, and reinforce positive changes. Those psychological effects are definitely not offered systemically in art classes.
I also found that using art in psychotherapy sessions are beneficial to my clients:
Efficient: Spend 10-15 min in creating art but saved tons of energy and time searching for the right words to articulate an experience or feeling;
Efficacy: Research shown art therapy reduce defensiveness and can get to the core of issues;
Effective: Not mentioning the art creating process and the product, the healing started when clients have the power to choose what art to make and what materials to use;
Enduring: Visual form of the arts can be kept and carried home as an object, provides long-lasting healing reminder in between sessions, or even when therapy is terminated.
Art therapist Lucia Capacchione described her experience using both hands to journal, "As I continued letting my right hand know what my left hand was doing (and vice versa), I could feel the split within me begin to heal. The conscious and unconscious, the rational and intuitive, the thinking and feeling sides of my inner world began to embrace each other." I want to say that with hand or no hand, art therapy can help you find yourself with ease.