Résumé of the professional and educational contexts of the arts therapies


The historical background & the professional context of arts therapies in France

From a historical viewpoint, it can be said that the practice of art therapy was first developed within psychiatric hospitals. Since his medical thesis in 1801, Philippe Pinel the founder of psychiatry in France proposed artistic activities in the programme of recovery from alienation. From the nineteenth century onwards, many different attempts were made to help mentally ill patients: theatre performances in asylums (Bicètre, Charenton and Sainte-Anne) and concerts in hospitals, bands and chorals for patients. At that time it was generally believed that patients should receive treatment that had a social purpose, which was characterized by a variety of different collective activities like music. This idea was developed after World War One, through socio-therapy. At that time some artistic activities were also included in programmes of ergo therapy (crafts production) and occupational therapy (with self-expression).

Over the twentieth century an ever increasing number of experiments in arts therapies, based on a wide range of different theories, have been conducted by artists, care takers or ‘art therapists’.

For plastic art (art therapy), the year 1950 marked a turning point. During the first World Congress of Psychiatry held in that year in Paris under the presidency of Professor Delay, an important exhibition of psychopathological art was presented. Several years later, in 1956, R. Volmat published his book “L’Art psychopathologique” (psychopathological art). He also founded workshops for artistic expression at the hospital Sainte-Anne (Paris) for treating mental illness. This approach was further developed by the creation of “Centre d’étude de l’expression” (Centre for study of expression). This centre has four functions: psychotherapy with mediations (workshops), clinical research, teaching and documentation. Psychiatric departments of hospitals generally develop plastic art productions (painting, drawing) and many exhibitions are organized each year.

Regarding dance therapy: we observe two main developments, one through a classical approach of dance, and a second with a more psychological, psychoanalytic orientation, through primitive expression (H.Duplan, F. Schott-Billman).  But there are also “corporal expression” workshops, which are between psychomotor or dance/occupational activity and therapy.

Music therapy has been developed in psychiatric hospitals since about 1830 (with Pinel’s medical disciples), through receptive and active (band, choral) activities. The ascension of psychoanalysis and of chemotherapy at the end of the nineteenth century broke this first development. It is with the observation of the limits of these therapies (mainly in psychosis) that, in 1969, with the creation of the first centre for music therapy (J.Jost, E.Lecourt, J.Guilhot, M.A.Guilhot, P.Sivadon, M.Gabai), this modality made its comeback. In the 1970s and 1980s research focused essentially on the use of music therapy in relaxation and analgesia for dental care, childbirth and mostly psychotherapy. Over recent decades, new approaches to understanding the place and function of music have brought about a turning point in music therapy research (Lecourt), considering the three main characteristics which are: from noise/sound to a structure, then a code and, finally, a work of art (with aesthetic functions),. This new research made it possible to break away from musical conditioning (behavioural approach). Applications in psycho-pedagogy, social situations, elderly people and disability have undergone major developments in recent years.

The situation of dramatherapy is special. As a result of the large development given in France to psychoanalytic psychodrama, its clinical success has inhibited any other form of theatre activity in therapy. It is only recently that, with the wish to harmonize this activity with the European area of arts therapies, we open this new discipline (see Master Sorbonne Paris Cité).


Level of education and training courses

We can distinguish four situations:

• arts therapies activities used by psychotherapists and psychiatrists as artistic mediations. In this case no level of art therapy is officially necessary. But, recently, new conditions are given for a practice of psychotherapy (with or without art), which are reserved to medical doctors and clinical psychologists.

• Since 1970 arts therapists trainings have given attestations of training in the private circle. These arts therapists have very diverse levels of education, especially in art.

• Since the 1980s some universities have delivered University Diplomas in Art Therapy (or music therapy, arts therapies, artistic mediations…). Contents of these diplomas are unrestricted, so these trainings can be very different. However, some of them are conscious of the need to offer a consistent level (about two years of training). The average level to enter these trainings is three to five years of experience in social, education, clinical work, or a licence degree, with a practice of art.

• The master degree in arts therapies is a professional, national title, regulated by the Minister of Education and Universities.

• From 2011 to 2014 we have had four professional masters degrees: Master in Music Therapy, Master in Dance Therapy, Master in Dramatherapy, Master in Plastic Arts Therapy. There is also an option for research, leading to the qualification of doctorate in art therapy. In May 2014 the Minister of the Universities has decided to change the title of this Master which is now “Master professional and research Sorbonne Paris Cité in Art Creation, speciality Arts Therapies” with four orientations : music therapy, drama therapy, dance therapy, plastic arts therapy. This is to reinforce the part of arts in arts therapy to distinguish the arts therapies to the psychotherapies.

The Training Courses

Historically the first organized training was in music therapy, by the first association (ARATP: J.Jost and E.Lecourt).  It was in 1972 in Paris.

• Since 2008 the University Paris Descartes organizes a Masters Degree in Arts Therapies. A first experiment was made through the department of the Educational Sciences, for only two years.

• 2011 - 2014, the University “Sorbonne Paris Cité” (Paris 3 and Paris 5) has created (responding to our demand) a department for the arts therapies (autonomous) with a masters degree, which gives a professional masters in a arts therapies specialization (music therapy, dance therapy, plastic arts therapy, drama therapy), with a “research option” for students interested in developing research. This research option opens the possibility for a doctorate in arts therapies.

• Since 2014 this Master has changed its title from Master in Arts therapies” to Master in Art Creation specialty Arts Therapies” and with the four orientations: music therapy, drama therapy, dance therapy, plastic arts therapy. The program is maintained quite the same.

This masters degree is open to students with a licence and a good level in artistic activities. It can also receive some professionals changing their orientation to arts therapies (with a financial contribution from their enterprise).

Each year 15 places are opened for each modality in Master One and 20 places for each modality in Master Two.

• Since the 1980s university diplomas in arts therapies (music therapy, artistic mediations etc) have been developed. Yet about ten such diplomas are generally organized by the faculties of medicine and psychology: universities of Montpellier, Tours, Grenoble, Nice, Clermont Ferrand, Toulouse, Nantes etc. (with different levels: from 100 to 900 hours…)

• Private trainings: many different courses are available from private associations. The prerequisites are more or less the same: medical, paramedical or pedagogical qualifications; a qualification in art is not always clearly defined. Contents and levels can be very different.

• The principal orientation developed in these trainings is psychoanalytic (Freud, Lacan) or clinical, even if the phenomenological orientation has always had, in France, a part in the clinical philosophy. But the psycho-pedagogical applications are also developing interest in behavioural and cognitive approaches.


Professional Associations

• Among the various national associations existing in this field, the Societé Francaise de Psychopathologie de L’expression (French Society of Psychopathology of Expression) is the largest. It deals with theatre as well as poetry, music, painting, film and dance, even if this society has been created in a medical context in which the interest for plastic productions was predominant.

• There are some local associations which offer applications and some trainings. They are generally specialized in one approach, one modality or one method.

• There is a French Federation of Music Therapy which works for the creation of a status of music therapist. The federation proposed a professional registration.

• Music Therapy, from the beginning, has been the most organised modality of arts therapies in France as in the world. The first World Congress of Music Therapy took place in Paris in 1974.

• The other modalities do not have such a federation but some have associations.


Status and professional identity

In France arts therapy is not recognized as a profession. Arts therapists are employed in hospitals and other institutions on the basis of their initial professional qualification if they have one (e.g. doctor, nurse, psychologist, specialized teacher, artist) or as artist intervening in hospital, animator, etc.  At present, there is no way to prevent untrained people from calling themselves arts therapists. However, the new national Professional Master of Arts Therapies, created in 2011, will give a good basis for the creation of a status, and the French Federation of Music Therapy is working to establish a status and offers professional registration.

Paris: Universités Sorbonne Paris Cité (Paris Descartes and Sorbonne Nouvelle)
Nantes: University of Nantes