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Book Reviews   |    
Handbook of Art Therapy
Reviewed by Stephen G. Thomas, A.T.R.
Psychiatric Services 2003; doi: 10.1176/appi.ps.54.9.1294-a
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edited by Cathy A. Malchiodi; New York, Guilford Press, 2002, 223 pages, $32

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Cathy Malchiodi is a ubiquitous presence in American art therapy, and her editorial oversight of Handbook of Art Therapy reflects her active role and wide-ranging knowledge of the field. This volume is a compendium of the roots and development of art therapy, its theoretical bases, and its applications with clients through the spectrum of developmental stages. Malchiodi has assembled 33 writers, including herself, to produce a book of both scope and substance.

The word "handbook" in the title implies that one can read this book, refer to it, and conduct art therapy. This idea may make many professional art therapists cringe. Art therapy is not as simple as it sometimes appears to be, and one book is not the same as the years of education and supervised experience required of registered art therapists. With that jeremiad out of the way, Handbook of Art Therapy is an accessible and useful resource for any clinician who wants to know more about art therapy or who wants to better understand clients' artwork in treatment or therapy. For those whose interest is stimulated, each chapter has its own list of references, which makes it easier to find resources on specific topics. In addition, Malchiodi has included information about education, supervision, standards of practice, and ethics established by the American Art Therapy Association. This information provides a more complete view of art therapy as a profession.

The handbook covers the gamut of art therapy applications in a variety of settings. Readers are likely to find several chapters that correspond with their own interests. Clinicians who work in psychiatric services will be most interested in the chapters about art therapy with adults who have major mental illnesses and in one chapter about violent imagery.

Susan Spaniol's chapter on art therapy with adults with severe mental illness is a good overview of inpatient, day treatment, and studio art therapy approaches and practices. Perhaps most important, Spaniol explains how a strengths-based, person-centered approach is inherent to art therapy. This perspective can augment and enlighten treatment programs that too often focus on pathologies and problems. Spaniol's discussion of authenticity is an important reminder that our work is more than "a technique for stimulating transference or a strategy for facilitating group participation."

A chapter by Joan Phillips on violent imagery, although based on work with adolescents, should be required reading for anyone who encounters patient artwork. As with any form of psychotherapy, art therapy is sometimes raw, painful, and unsettling. Art therapy can be a way to both expose and deal with topics that may be violent or sexually charged. Phillips cautions against rushing to judgment when confronted with such images. Sex and violence are pervasive elements of popular culture, especially for young people. Clinicians need to be able to tease out and distinguish between real risk and simple parroting of a music video or video game.

Handbook of Art Therapy is a welcome addition to the art therapy literature. It is a useful reference and a readable, interesting book to browse.

Mr. Thomas is an art therapist at Northern Virginia Mental Health Institute in Falls Church.




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