At its very core, expressive arts therapy is a non-prescriptive, non-diagnostic approach to psychotherapy that works to empower individuals and promote their personal development, health, and well-being. The focus is not on fixing an individual, but rather providing them with the tools to explore who and how they are, and express their imagination. In a society where more awareness and attention is being brought to mental health, more professional help is being sought out. What often brings clients into therapeutic relationships is a desire to reestablish agency within one’s self, and access a sense of capability and empowerment. In this regard, expressive arts therapy works to help clients access and explore different facets of themselves and their imagination with the use of multiple art modalities.
Through transitioning between various mediums of art within a session (dance/movement, poetry, music, sand-play, storytelling, painting, clay work), clients are given an extensive range of tools which can provide a thorough insight into their current condition. What does their anger look like in a drawing? If given a voice, what does it sound like? How does it move? What does it want to say? While people of any age can benefit from this approachto healing, this is also an invaluable experience for children to have, for it shows them a healthy and creative way to explore and process their personal experiences earlier on in life. Individuals do not need to be proficient in any of the art modalities; one of the fundamental beliefs in expressive arts therapy is that art belongs to everyone, and can be a powerful catalyst in healing when the imagination is given full expression. While the focus of expressive arts therapy is not on ‘fixing’ an individual, it has proven to help those who live with anxiety, depression, bipolar, addiction, visual/hearing impairment, physical disabilities, and trauma, and is known to help those that struggle with emotional/self-regulation and expression.
Often times, what makes problems feel daunting and difficult to overcome is how inescapable and integrated they may feel in an individual’s life.
What expressive arts therapy provides is a safe space to bring the internal out into the external world. What might feel like an overwhelm of anger might then come out into a drawing, movement, sound and music, words and poetry, and/or play. When this happens, a degree of separation is established; what was once trapped inside is given autonomy outside of the body, and becomes something tangible to work with.
At no point in time does the expressive arts therapist interpret the client’s pieces. On the contrary, the therapist is there to witness and help the client explore and gain their own understanding of what emerges and what significance it may hold. Through this, clients are in control of their process and explorations, while the therapist maintains the safety of the environment and helps the client stay attuned to their work.
If you are looking for alternatives methods of healing and are interested in exploring how the expressive arts may help you on your journey, please know that artistic skill is not necessary in this practice. Whether you have lived through or are experiencing anxiety, depression, grief, trauma, or live without a diagnosis or history of mental illness, expressive arts therapy has its doors open for you.