Art as Healing vs. Art Therapy

Art: something that is created with imagination that expresses important ideas or feelings
Healing: to restore and make whole again
Therapy: the treatment of physical or mental illnesses

Art as Healing: My Way

Most times when I explain what I do, I am met with the response, “Oh. You do art therapy.” I reply no, not really, as I do not have a background in therapy. What I do have is over forty years as a professional studio artist.

I know the silent language of art and what it can offer. Sometimes, when words are not enough to express what we are feeling, we need another language. All practicing artists know this, and it is one of the main reasons why we do what we do. Making art helps us discover who we are and supports us as we seek an understanding of our place in the world. I believe creativity is our birthright and should be accessible to everyone. I teach what I have learned through my personal escapades through art. Art has assuaged my wounds and broadened my life.

One of the greatest gifts of my life is being able to teach art as pathway to self-discovery and healing. I am thrilled to be launching my very first e-course, Creating Brave®, this fall. Not only will it enable Healing Icons to reach more people, but our audience will expand to include everyone, not just cancer survivors. We all need a bit of restorative healing from time to time.

My studio is my sanctuary where a different kind of therapy happens.

My studio is a sanctuary where a different kind of therapy happens – self-directed inner explorations open through messing around creatively, getting lost in the process and simply trusting…


I hold the deepest gratitude to Art, for She has led me to places I never expected to travel.
The making, the crafting of art soothes, stimulates, quiets, engages, frustrates, calms and stirs my soul.
That I never know what will come from this process is terrifying and electrifying. It makes me feel alive.
My inspiration flows intuitively from the stuff of life —
Revealing the remarkable within the ordinary,
Leading me towards my truest spiritual self,
Urging me to see the entire world before I die,
Encouraging me to learn deeply from the words of poets and thinkers,
Inspiring me to understand my ceaseless nighttime dreams,
Helping me find the quiet within the roar —
All this intertwines, fueling the images I create.
My marriage of Art and Nighttime Dreams and Travel — these are my Muses
Continually teaching me to slow down,
Pay attention and listen,
Leading me deeper into my inward journey.


Endowed with wings, she knows no boundaries, No borders to restrain her She carries a strong voice Filled with her own song The wonders of her songs speak to everyone If only they would d listen With their hearts and not their minds.

From my current series of work – Out on a Limb
A Feathered Dream
Endowed with wings, she knows no boundaries,
No borders to restrain her
She carries a strong voice
Filled with her own song
The wonders of her songs speak to everyone
If only they would d listen
With their hearts and not their minds.

How I Got Here

I graduated in 1982 with an MFA in studio art and set out to build my resume, entering juried competitions and seeking gallery representation. In the late ’80s, I had recurring nightmares, so I studied dreams. A two-year dream interpretation certification through the Haden Institute led me to teaching dream-work as a link to creative expression. My dreams reconnected me with some childhood memories.

When I was 10, I lost my 6-year-old brother to brain cancer. It was a devastating loss for my family and me. Over many years, I found that the visual arts provided the language I needed to heal, but making art alone was not enough. My healing journey took me across the world, studying Mexican death traditions, Jungian psychology, Tibetan mandalas, and expressive writing. Healing Icons® weaves together my life experiences and professional art techniques into an interdisciplinary approach, using art as the vehicle to promote healing to those whose lives have been impacted by cancer.


Art Therapy: Their Way

The Therapist's Couch, a ceramic sculpture by my pal Jeri Burdick.

The Therapist’s Couch, a ceramic sculpture by my pal Jeri Burdick, showing art therapy as a different approach to inner work.

Therapeutic uses of art have existed for quite some time, having roots in the field of psychotherapy. The history of art therapy is quite interesting, intertwining the fields of Arts and Healing, Expressive Arts Therapy, and Creative Art Therapy. These are professional fields that are licensure-based in clinical mental health counseling with specializations in art therapy, dance therapy, expressive arts therapy, and music therapy. Most clients come to a mental health professional with a problem to be remedied or fixed. A purposeful use of the arts in intervention, counseling, psychological therapy, and rehabilitation has been hugely successful.

I have the utmost respect for the art therapy field, and several art therapists have influenced the evolution of my work as an artist and a teacher.


I'm sharing with you some of my all time favorite books!

These are some of my all-time favorite books!

Over 20 years ago, when I was feeling antsy in my work and those nightmares were in full swing, I stumbled upon the work of Peter LondonHis book, No More Secondhand Art: Awakening the Artist Within, helped me see art as an awakening instrument of personal, spiritual transformation. Shaun McNiff‘s books Art as Medicine: Creating a Therapy of the Imagination, Art Heals: How Creativity Cures the Soul, and Trust the Process: An Artist’s Guide to Letting Go rocked my world. My relationship with art profoundly changed because of these authors! This was not the stuff that I got in my Master of Fine Arts academic education. Deep down, I knew that art was my teacher, my guide into the mysteries of life, but I needed an outside voice to reassure me.


Healing Nuances: Spiritual vs. Psychological

In dialog with what is being created. Having no expectations but trusting the creative process.

In dialog with what is being created. Having no expectations but trusting the creative process.

Artists know that the healing, the understanding, comes from the artistic process as well as sitting with the “product” when it is completed. When inner things are not quite speech-ready, the symbols, colors, textures, and images within our creations gently lead us into what we are ready to hear. In my dream studies, we were encouraged to celebrate the nightmares because it meant that our unconscious was nudging us toward something we were ready to hear. Nudging us toward our own revelations. Nudging us to understand ourselves in a deeper way.

Usually within an art therapy environment, the therapist interprets the client’s work.  The art work created is a wonderful tool for the therapist to use in fine-tuning the diagnosis and “fixing” the psychological problem.

Reflecting on what is created is very cathartic, but I leave the assigning of meaning to the creator. In my world, the art I create is the teacher. If I slow down enough, sink into my intuitive self and trust the growing relationship between what is created and my still, small voice within, magic happens. I see myself anew.


“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” ― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

A page from a student’s journal. “And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince


How has creativity enhanced your life?

What are some creative practices that bring you joy and healing?


  1. Michel Collins on June 25, 2016 at 12:54 am

    Every time I read one of your bio’s, I learn more about you the person. And I’ve known you since 1995. This Bio reflects the great person that you are: warm, caring, and very intuitive.

    Can’t wait until the Ecourse, Creating Brave, is online!

    • Heidi Darr-Hope on June 27, 2016 at 6:02 pm

      Mickey, We are so excited about Creating Brave and allowing more people to experience what art as healing is all about. As an ambassador of Healing Icons, you have been an encouraging face for so many survivors and now as a participant in Creating Brave, your voice will reach many throughout the world. Exciting times!

  2. Linda DeLeonardis on June 26, 2016 at 1:49 am

    I came to art not because I was in need of fixing, but because of a grieving soul from a cancer diagnosis and a death. Collage has been a helpful path for me because it’s been a way to bring my feelings to the surface in a calming manner. I allow myself to discover what is pleasing to me and then continue on. There are many avenues to explore and in doing so, I learn so much about myself.

    • Heidi Darr-Hope on June 27, 2016 at 6:09 pm

      Linda, It has been such an incredible honor to watch you embrace and trust the process of art-making! You are a testament to its power. You have always been Creating Brave!

  3. Selena Brunson-Brown on June 28, 2016 at 8:19 pm

    I love how you continue to pursue art and the amazing creativity that comes from you. The very first class I attended was the beginning of my healing. It is wonderful how you help so many souls. I say Soul because the “Big C” terrified my soul. The creation of Art freed the scary fears out of my soul-spirit. It has helped me more than I can express.

    • Heidi Darr-Hope on July 12, 2016 at 4:26 pm

      Selena, I have been honored and awed by your courage and bravery in facing your cancer. In healing yourself, you have also given others the gumption to do the same. You are amazing!

  4. Deana Rennick on June 29, 2016 at 3:30 pm

    Art really does heal. I find that one of the biggest obstacles is actually taking the time to allow that to happen. I love how you remind us that it is really important to find the time to really listen and allow art to teach us, to help us heal and grow.

    • Heidi Darr-Hope on July 12, 2016 at 4:32 pm

      Deana – YES! It’s so true that finding the time is the greatest hurdle! But once we have cleared a bit of space in our lives for creativity, the rewards are so terrifically fun and inspiring that we will continue carry the art torch forward in your lives. She will always be there for us!

  5. Michelle Baker on June 29, 2016 at 8:55 pm

    The idea of creating art is scary for many of us. Something we just don’t think we have the talent to do. It’s encouraging and motivating to think that we all are capable if we just open our minds to it.

  6. Mae E. Wells on October 11, 2016 at 5:01 am

    Creativity has allowed me to rediscover myself and to come to grips with what is important. The process of creating altered books takes one from a place of confusion to “trusting the process” just to discover
    something amazing. I am grateful for all that I have learned from Heidi and Healing Icons.

  7. susan on December 19, 2019 at 9:34 pm

    I think it is important to clarify that the art therapist does not interpret the art in the therapeutic process, but journeys with the client as the client interpret what their own art means. Art therapist are not interpreters of their client’s or anyone’s art. Inferences can be made, but the journey of the process, materials and client’s meaning is how art is used in therapy. Also art therapist must have a masters degree in art therapy to practice as clinicians and have to do continuing education and supervision. All therapist must be licensed or be working toward licensure under a licensed professional to independently and legally practice/provide mental health therapy.

Leave a Comment