Pioneers in Art Therapy

You can say that art therapy happened by chance somewhere in the mid of last century. The first experiment with art as a form of therapy took place by chance early in the Second World War when the artist Adrian Hill was recovering from tuberculosis in a Sussex sanatorium. He turned to his art as a way of passing the time creatively, and began introducing other patients to painting and drawing to take their minds off their illnesses and traumatic wartime experiences.

To his surprise, Hill found that not only were they enthusiast, but that they used their pictures to express their fears and anxieties, and the frightening scenes they had witnessed. Unintentionally, he had become Britain's first art therapist.

Another pioneer was Irene Champernowe, who studied psychotherapy under the Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Gustav Jung. She was impressed by Jung's use of painting and modeling to help patients express their unconscious feelings, and was herself helped through an emotional crisis.

In 1942, Irene and her husband set up a center for 'psychotherapy through the arts' at their country house, where they employed artists, musicians and dancers as well as medical experts.

Although they worked in very different ways – Hill as an enlightened art teacher and Irene as a psychotherapist – they laid some of the foundations for the profession of art therapy in Britain. As a result of their work and that of followers such as Edward Adamson, the first artist to be employed full time in a psychiatric hospital, the British Association of Art Therapists was established in 1963.