Expressive arts therapy combines psychology and the creative process to promote emotional growth and healing. This multi-arts, or intermodal approach to psychotherapy and counseling uses our inborn desire to create—be it music, theatre, poetry, dance, or other artistic forms—as a therapeutic tool to help initiate change. Expressive arts therapy may incorporate writing, drama, dance, movement, painting, and/or music. People utilizing expressive arts therapy are encouraged to explore their responses, reactions, and insights through pictures, sounds, explorations, and encounters with art processes.
In expressive arts therapy, we use multiple senses to explore our inner and outer world through the experience and creation of different art forms. Since the therapeutic work is based on the creative process and not on the final result, it is not necessary to have a background or training in the arts to benefit from expressive arts therapy. Throughout the process, one learns new and different ways to use them, mostly nonverbal language of creativity to communicate inner feelings that were not previously available to us by simply thinking or talking about them.
At the core of expressive arts therapy is the concept of poiesis, a Greek word that is the root of the word poetry, which refers to the natural process of moving from everyday expectations into the world of imagination and creativity that results in art-making. As art comes from a deep emotional place inside us, creative endeavors enable us to undergo a profound process of self-discovery and understanding. Creativity becomes the pathway to the expression of inner feelings, leading to a process of self-discovery and understanding. In other words, our creative process becomes our road to emotional healing.
Approaches to Expressive Arts Therapy
There are different approaches to expressive art therapy. These approaches can be used as a single approach or the combination of one or more approaches in the therapeutic setting.
- Art therapy – It uses art, media, images, and the creative process, and respects patient responses to the created products as reflections of development, abilities, personality, interests, concerns, and conflicts. It is a therapeutic means of reconciling emotional conflicts, fostering self-awareness, developing social skills, managing behavior, solving problems, reducing anxiety, aiding reality orientation, and increasing self-esteem (American Art Therapy Association, 2004).
- Music therapy – It uses music to bring positive changes in the psychological, physical, cognitive, or social functioning of individuals who have health or educational problem (American Music Therapy Association, 2004).
- Drama therapy – It is the systematic use of theatre processes, products, or association to achieve therapeutic goals of symptom relief, emotional and physical integration, and personal growth.
- Dance/Movement therapy – It uses movement to help individuals achieve emotional, cognitive, physical, and social integration.
- Poetry therapy – It is the intentional use of poetry and literature for healing and personal growth.
- Play therapy – It is the systematic use of a theoretical model to establish an interpersonal process wherein trained play therapists use the therapeutic powers of play to help clients prevent or resolve psychosocial difficulties and achieve optimal growth and development.
- Sand play therapy – It includes the sandbox and large collections of the miniature which helps the client to explore the layers of the psyche in a new form. It includes creating sand pictures that help the client to illustrate his or her psychological condition.
- Integrated arts approach/ multimodal – It involves two or more expressive therapies to foster awareness, encourage emotional growth, and enhance relationships with others.
Condition Treated by Using Expressive Art Therapy
It is considered as part of the treatment strategy for a wide variety of behavioral, emotional, and mental conditions. It includes ADHD, developmental disabilities, brain injuries, eating disorders, high levels of stress, anxiety, depression, post traumatic stress, chronic illness, and social challenges. The therapeutic impact of expressive art is focused on four major areas – Expression, imagination, active participation, and mind-body connections.
Expressive art therapy is a creative way of growth and healing. It has different approaches and uses creativity as the outlet of expression and imagination. It is effective in a therapeutic setting with children and adults. It helps in dealing with different psychological, physical, and social issues. It is a pathway of expression of inner feelings that leads to the road of self-discovery and understanding.
“Creativity involves breaking out of expected patterns in order to look at things in a different way”- Edward De Bono
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