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Craft Therapy vs. Art Therapy: Is There a Difference?

Craft therapy and art therapy have many similarities. They utilize a number of the same strategies. People experience many of the same mental health benefits from each of them.

However, they are not quite the same thing. Learn about the differences to see which one can best help you when you are in need.

What is Craft Therapy?

Craft therapy is the use of hands-on hobbies and activities to derive mental health benefits. Benefits of crafting include:

  • Reduced rumination of the mind
  • Enhanced self-esteem and feelings of productivity
  • Improved imagination
  • A sense of relaxation and calm
  • Potential to join in community

Craft therapy can be done individually or in groups. It is offered in some formal settings including inpatient therapy, prison programs, and schools. However, anyone can pick up a hands-on hobby and derive mental health benefits from the experience. Therapeutic crafts include fiber arts (such as embroidery and knitting), paper arts (including scrapbooking and origami), wood crafts, building models, and jewelry making (among others).

What is Art Therapy?

Art therapy is the use of art to heal. Although individual artists certainly gain mental health benefits, art therapy is a specific practice. It is used in a range of professional settings, including private practice therapy.

Typically, art therapy is overseen by a professional who has education and experience specific to the field. Art therapy incorporates symbolism, interpretation, mythology, and other elements of art and history to bring meaning to healing through art.

Craft Therapy vs Art Therapy

There are many similarities between craft therapy and art therapy. However, there are also a few significant differences.

Craft and Art Therapy: Similarities

Craft therapy and art therapy are both used in similar settings such as rehab, inpatient institutions, and schools. The two activities provide many of the same mental health benefits. For example, they reduce stress and increase skills-based feelings of productivity and self-esteem.

There are even specific activities that are similar across the two forms of therapy. For example, an art therapist might work with fiber art. Similarly, many individuals who knit and crochet derive craft therapy benefits.

Craft and Art Therapy: Differences

There are a few important differences between craft therapy and art therapy:

  • The benefits of art therapy have been widely studied and documented.
  • Therapists can get specific training in art therapy skills.
  • Clients can locate a professional who specializes in art therapy.
  • Art therapy is recognized as a form of therapy; craft therapy is sometimes dismissed.
  • Craft therapy has a lower barrier to entry for some people.

The History of Craft vs Art

The previous point, about the barrier to entry, is very important. However, to understand it, we have to look back in time to the history of craft in the art world.

For a very long time, crafting was seen as a limited-skill domestic art that anyone could do. In contrast, people viewed art as a talent available to only a few. Much of this has to do with the gender bias in history; men’s art was taken seriously whereas crafts such as fiber art were viewed as “measly women’s work.”

Women (and men) worked hard to get craft art taken seriously by the fine art world. There was a huge push specifically in the 1970’s to legitimize craft as art. After all, if you have ever seen an original quilt design or hand-woven tapestry, you can easily see the art in the craft.

Nevertheless, craft still often plays second fiddle to art. This attitude has bled over into the world of therapy. That said, craft has been studied historically, primarily through the lens of occupational therapy.

The Ease of Craft Therapy

These ingrained, sometimes unconscious attitudes, about art and craft affect how people experience craft therapy.

One huge benefit is that many people find crafting more accessible. They don’t think of themselves as artists, therefore “art therapy” sounds very intimidating. In contrast, it feels easy to “do a craft.”

Craft feels like play. Art can feel that way as well. However, “making art” comes with a lot of expectations (however self-imposed) that limits many people from getting playful with it.

Someone who would never be comfortable putting a paintbrush to canvas may find it easier to make a friendship bracelet or knit a hat.

Unfortunately, there aren’t official credentialed programs to access craft therapy. However, clients may find that a local art therapist offers the same services. It is just a matter of finding someone who understands that the two things are not that different after all.

How do you define craft and art? Are you more comfortable with one term than the other? How does that impact your ability to access their health benefits? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Craft Therapy vs. Art Therapy: Is There a Difference?

Kathryn Vercillo

Kathryn Vercillo is a professional writer who also has a Masters in Psychological Studies. Her expertise is writing at the intersection of crafts and mental health. Kathryn is the author of several books on this topic including Crochet Saved My Life.

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APA Reference
Vercillo, K. (2018). Craft Therapy vs. Art Therapy: Is There a Difference?. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 24, 2020, from


Last updated: 16 Sep 2018
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