Expressive Arts Therapy & Creative Arts Therapy are interchangeable terms used to describe the therapeutic process of using expressive and creative arts to help people heal, increase self-awareness and enhance intuition. In creative arts therapy sessions, the counselor and client may use a wide range of expressive arts such as drawing, painting, drama, storytelling, dance, music, poetry, prose, drama, movement, dreamwork, imagery, and visual arts.
Creativity and imagination are innate capacities of all human beings. Young children will draw if given materials and dance when music is played. They are constantly making-up stories and enacting dramas. However, once children develop an observer self that sees themselves through a judgmental lens, they begin to exile their creative process. They stop dancing, get stressed out about how to make a picture look just right, and eventually, stop telling stories. Creative expression helps us to process through emotions and to integrate the various aspects of ourselves and our worlds. Expressive Arts Therapy helps us to reclaim our creative birthright and our natural capacity of creative expression while also fostering a creative community for healing. It helps us to experience happiness and joy, thereby decreasing depressive symptoms. It can also help us to locate an internal sense of peace and calm as many forms of expressive arts can be meditative in nature.
Creative arts therapy focuses on the process, not the end product. Clients do not require any special skills, just as children require no special skills to finger-paint.
- Article ~ Creativity – This Emotional Life
- Video ~ Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: Flow, the secret to happiness
- Video ~ I Remember Better When I Paint (Alzheimer’s and Art Therapy)
Visual Art Samples
When the client is drawing, they are not guided to make meaning while they draw. They are guided to follow impulses, rather than heaving engaging the cognitive mind. This piece was made by someone who had been in a severe depression. Upon reflection she related this piece to her capacity to finally see some home. She notes that she lives in each of these layers but is still rooted in the deep dark muck of her heaviness. She was also able to see though that that was the place from which her seed grew.
This piece is made using gesso stained with coffee. Yarn is glued on in chaotic patterns with a core piece at center and the end trailing off the canvas. There are crushed bits of rose leaves scattered across the canvas. The creator was at a job that was high pressured and chaotic. She used coffee to create the stain because it fit with the anxiety she was experiencing. She states “there have been times in my life that I feel like I’ve necessarily unraveled. But, this time, it feels unnecessary, like I’m being toyed with, like a cat plays with a ball of yarn.” The roses are a symbol of beauty, but they are dried and flaking to bits.
The creator was unhappy with her life choices and through the process of coaching had made a goal to leave her job to travel to places that would deepen her spirituality. This was a canister that was created to help her focus on that goal. She stopped her daily Starbucks habit and added to the canister each month. She looked for items on sale and whatever amount she saved by the sale she entered in the canister. Expenses she eliminated, such as Netflix accounts, went into the canister. At the end of each month, her canister money was deposited into a bank account. Within nine months she had quit her job and was on her adventure.
It is difficult to see the details in this mixed media repurposed art piece. The creator was working with Internal Family Systems and different aspects of herself that were in conflictual relationship with each other. The center figure is locked in a cage and bound within the cage, arms above head and bound to the cage. Her head is a circular sphere with a multitude of suction cups. Kali, the goddess of destruction wraps around the cage and dominates the scene. Kali’s cord holds onto the spinning wheel that holds an image of a little girl with wide shocked open eyes.