Intro to art therapy
July 26, 2012

 A painting by Donna Betts, art therapist and artist.

Donna Betts remembers distinctly how creating art enabled her to explore an emotionally significant life event. A few months after graduating from NSCAD in 1992, as a 22-year-old gallery assistant in Toronto, Donna experienced the power of art therapy first-hand.

“It was a very profound experience for me,” says Donna, on the phone from Washington, D.C., where she is an assistant professor of art therapy at George Washington University.
At the time, she had never heard of art therapy and immediately began to research where she could study it. She ended up in the United States, first at Vermont College of Norwich University, later transferring to George Washington. After getting her master’s degree, she worked in the field for seven years, and then embarked on her PhD at Florida State University in Tallahassee.

Donna has been teaching at the graduate level since 2002. She has researched, published and presented on a variety of topics related to art therapy including autism, adoption, foster care, eating disorders, HIV/AIDS, and post-traumatic stress disorder.  For her most recent study on visitor reactions to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, D.C., Donna was awarded the American Art Therapy Association Research Award, 2012.

Compared to its development in the United States, art therapy is still an emerging mental health profession in Canada. Standing at the crossroads of art and psychology, a handful of accredited programs are offered across the country, including graduate programs in music, drama and art therapies at Concordia University in Montreal.

In 2003, an article by Lois Woolf in The Canadian Art Therapy Association Journal attempted to define what art therapists do.

“As art therapists we understand that the unconscious may be expressed through visual communication. As art therapists we provide the environment and the relationship for visual and verbal expression and the working through of personal suffering. We witness the uncovering of volatile material as well as normal expression of life’s complexities. We act as the guide for our client and their art. We wait for images and symbols to appear. We watch for affect, articulation and content. We are with our clients as the substance and meaning of the art shows up. And the clients use our attention to their art and creativity as part of their journey to their own healing.”

Or as Donna says, “For me, it’s all about helping people.”

 An Introduction to Art Therapy: Foundations and Fundamentals


Donna Betts (BFA 1992) is an assistant professor of art therapy at George Washington University.


Donna Betts (BFA 1992) returns to her beloved alma mater, NSCAD University, on August 8 to conduct a three-hour workshop exploring the profession of art therapy. Participants will learn about the foundations and development of art therapy practice, with case examples of artwork by client populations. During the second half of the workshop, participants will make art to further understand the fundamentals of art therapy. The class, open to students, staff and local artists, has a limit of 30 participants. Dr. Betts will be assisted by Amy Mackenzie (BFA 2008), an instructor with NSCAD’s School of Extended Studies and art therapist in private practice through the Therapeutic Approach Health Centre on Quinpool Road.

Participants must register to the class by August 1. The fee is $75. The class takes place Wednesday, August 8, 6 to 9 p.m. Call 902-494-8185 or email