For Black women, art therapy can be a lifeline. This wellness practice can radically change how Black women speak, treat and see themselves. It is also a mixture of therapy, rest and community-building. 

Art heals, and healing is a slow and beautiful process. Whether you are hoping to heal racial trauma, workplace mistreatment, childhood abuse or self-esteem struggles, art therapy can be a great outlet and form of expression. It creates the necessary space to heal from traumas that society doesn’t. These include traumas of any kind, including personal, intergenerational, transgenerational and historical.

Here is a look at the power of art therapy and how it can catalyze healing and growth for Black women.

Art as a Form of Healing

Founder of Alluma: Art & Healing Deanna Barton is a board-certified art therapist who focuses on holding space for women of color. Amidst the pandemic and the social injustices, Barton launched Alluma as a dedicated space to find healing through art. 

“I aimed to make mental health care more accessible, inspired by how art naturally facilitated openness and expression,” she said.

Art therapy harnesses the creative process of art-making to enrich the mind, body and spirit. It can reduce stress and anxiety, promote personal growth and healing, foster mindfulness, improve relationships and social skills, and enhance self-awareness and self-confidence.

In her personal life, Barton grew up with a love of the arts. During her sophomore year at Spelman College, her sculpture professor introduced her to the field of art therapy. From that moment, she knew that she wanted to be an art therapist.

“The time I spend with my art feels like time spent with a best friend,” she said. “Without art, I’m not sure how I would’ve overcome my mental health struggles I’ve faced throughout my life.”

Today, the clients Barton works with are often healing from complex trauma and perfectionism, as well as rediscovering their connection to art-making. 

“My clients seek a space to lower their defenses and feel seen, heard, and validated as they process past and current life challenges,” Barton said. “Art plays a pivotal role in guiding them through this healing journey.”

A Safe Space for Black Women

Being a Black woman is a unique intersectional identity. Many of Barton’s clients have sought her out specifically because they wanted a Black woman therapist. They feel more open and able to express themselves fully.

“Recognizing and sharing intersectionality as a Black woman, I understand the challenges of seeking mental health care,” she said. “Specifically mental health care that avoids retraumatization and doesn’t perpetuate social injustices through systems of white supremacy.”

Barton helps clients address issues, such as depression, anxiety and various types of trauma, including complex trauma, childhood trauma, race-based stress and trauma, and workplace-related trauma. Her clients often seek support for issues, like perfectionism, creative blocks, navigating relationship conflicts, and achieving better work-life balance.

“Being human is complex,” she explained. “Most of my clients are Black women, and navigating life as a marginalized individual adds layers of complexity.”

Different Mediums of Art

Barton creates healing art-based community activations and art-based, trauma–informed curriculum for organizations. She also incorporates mixed media and visual journaling into her work with clients. 

In her personal time, Barton’s favorite art medium is mixed media. She enjoys creating collages using cutouts from magazines, fabric, watercolors, oil pastels, and found objects. She also enjoys visual journaling.

“Rather than writing, I express myself through small works of art in a sketchbook journal,” she explained.

Barton also encourages her clients to explore non-traditional materials. She finds it most rewarding to see how resourceful clients can be with materials at hand. 

“Art can be made with almost anything, and I find joy in collaborating with clients to think creatively and playfully,” she said. “I’ve had clients create art using food waste, cut flowers, egg cartons, and even old clothes,” she said.

Advice for Black Women Considering Art Therapy

Barton encourages Black women to seek out an art therapist in their area who has the appropriate qualifications — a master’s degree in art therapy and relevant credentials or licenses (e.g., ATR, ATR-BC, LPAT, LCAT). It’s important to note that while some talk therapists may incorporate art-making into their practice, this doesn’t make them art therapists.

Barton wants women interested in art therapy to know that they don’t need to be skilled or experienced in art to participate in art therapy.  During a session, you may explore personal issues and emotions through art-making, which could evoke feelings of discomfort, sadness, anger, guilt, or anxiety—part of the therapeutic process. 

“Your art therapist will be there to support you on this journey,” she said.