Expressive arts therapy is an unconventional alternative used for therapy, and its benefits have helped it become popularized quite fast.
We are trapped in a world where everyone is in a never-ending race of getting to the top. Between doing everything to achieve fame, success, and money, we sometimes forget to lie back and have a conversation with ourselves. We find it tough to make an effort to do something for ourselves and to acknowledge our thoughts.
When we sense a bothersome feeling, instead of dealing with it, we overlook and turn our back on that perception of vexing.
All these actions consequently push away those thoughts and feelings to the unconscious part of our brain. And then, after some time, these thoughts and the feelings come back in full force to affect us more gravely. Since the thoughts are now a part of the unconscious, it becomes difficult to point out what’s wrong.
Regrettably, our society has conditioned people to feel ashamed when they talk about their mental health. You would expect that in the most socially progressive century, we would at least be able to give people a safe space to express their vulnerabilities. But somehow, we have done the exact opposite.
Most of us don’t even know how crucial it is to acknowledge what troubles us and our health. We do not get help for the trauma we are going through until it starts taking over and interfering with our lives.
For this journey of self-discovery, when we talk about getting professional help, the therapy setting that initially clicks in our mind is sitting down with the clinical therapist or counselor and just having a conversation.
In this article, however, we will explore a non-traditional method called expressive arts therapy. You will get a gist of why taking this approach is a commonly prescribed treatment in more severe cases or when the patient finds it difficult to talk about themselves and its different benefits over other therapy methods.
A. What is Expressive Arts-Based Therapy?
Expressive arts-based therapy is typically a multi-model and dynamic approach. It involves several art forms like dance, painting, writing, drama, and music for therapeutic purposes. It takes place in a non-judgmental and supportive setting to make the journey of deep personal growth and healing a little bit easier, if not a lot.
It stands apart from conventional artistic expression because it focuses on creation instead of the final product. The creative processes help the patient to get in touch with their innermost thoughts and feelings. Though, the outcome might not always be decipherable in terms of their pain or struggle.
It is also pertinent to note that although there is a thin line between therapeutic use of arts and a formal, systemic arts-based therapy model, the difference is stark. The former is unmoderated and mainly done for recreational purposes; the latter is done for treatment purposes and under the supervision and support of a clinical psychologist.
B. Difference Between Art Therapy and Expressive Arts-Based Therapy
With such similar terminology, it is easy to get confused between these two models. So to put it simply, art therapy invests itself in focusing on one art form.
On the other hand, though, expressive art-based therapy is interdisciplinary and often uses a combination of different creative arts modality that fall under art therapy.
These creative arts can include:
- Visual arts
- Writing or bibliotherapy
- Music (music writing)
- Stories or storytelling
C. Professional and Educational Requirements to be an Expressive Arts Therapist
The popularity of expressive art therapy continues to grow in the international sphere. For making a career in expressive arts therapy, having a background in psychology is the foremost. The minimum requirement is to have a master’s degree in psychological counseling, and the degree must have a concentration in expressive arts therapy.
Other options include a certification course for those who wish to work in a non-clinical setting and apply their knowledge of expressive art therapy in various other fields.
A few university programs are provided by institutions like the California Institute of Integral Studies and Ottawa University. International Expressive Arts Therapy Association offers specialized programs and master’s degrees.
D. Benefits of Expressive Arts Therapy
Art as a whole is immensely beneficial for your mental health. When it is used for clinical or therapeutic purposes, its benefits become impossible to count on fingers. The form of emotional growth and healing achievable through this method is unmatchable.
Although there are many perks of expressive arts-based therapy, the following is a list of the most notable ones
1. Tapping into Hidden Emotions
The nature of expressive arts-based therapy is cathartic. That is, it allows for expression that gives psychological relaxation through creative expression.
Another aspect of Expressive Arts Therapy is that the creative process is very gradual and slow. The unconscious gets triggered somehow in the creative process, and it comes over to the conscious part of the brain. Thus, it allows the client to have the space and time to find nirvana through artistic expression and art therapists get a little more clarity.
For example, a client might create a piece of art without any preset theme in mind and during drawing, painting, or whatever they are doing for expression, memories of trauma that are embedded deep into their mind might resurface and display themselves on the client’s artwork.
2. Improving the Art Therapists’ Understanding of the Clients’ Condition
There are indeed a few things that can’t be put into words. An expressive arts Therapist helps the client do just that. More often than not, there are a few things that the client fails to discuss or mention in talk therapy.
When the therapist views the client’s work or observes them during movement therapy, they get a subtle idea of the emotions they are trying to showcase. The therapist may inquire about the creative process or emotional idea behind a certain color, shape, or symbol being used. Thus, the therapist in a way gets a deeper insight into the client’s condition.
3. A Tangible and Visible Display of Emotional Process
Expressive arts therapy brings forth a clear view of what the client is going through on a physical structure. It makes sense out of the cluttered thoughts.
Communication through art, irrespective of its type, is considered a simple and effective method. The client might reflect on their art later on and realize that what they created was the reflection of a forgotten experience or memory.
The images they create, the textures they paint, and the feelings they put in during movement all express whatever they’re going through.
4. Accessible to All
Art is undeniably a universal language. Another factor that makes expressive arts therapy a convenient alternative is that it is creative and can thus work for everyone irrespective of their age, literacy, language, etc. What’s more, is that you don’t have to be good in a certain art for expressive arts therapy to be successful for you.
It is especially beneficial for those with speaking and learning disabilities. For example, expressive arts therapy can become a channel for children with autism to express themselves clearly. It can also help them understand the viewpoint and perspective of others.
5. Building the Client’s Awareness
Expressive arts therapy enables the client to shape an insightful understanding of themselves and their experiences. It puts them on the path of healing and personal growth. It helps them dig a little deeper and reflect on their experiences in a way they would not be able to via traditional talk therapy. The gradual process of expressive arts therapy helps with concentration and lets the thoughts in their subconscious flow out naturally and accelerates self-discovery
A lot of times, the thoughts that are hidden away continue to linger on and refuse to come out and be expressed during talk therapy. Expressive arts therapy aids in bringing them to the conscious part of the brain. And when that happens, it is no less than a eureka moment for both the client and the therapist or counselor. Thus, expressive arts therapy holds the power to help the client understand themselves more clearly. And, magnifies their personal growth.
6. Building Self-esteem
Having a sense of accomplishment is perhaps one of the toughest things to achieve and it is the foremost feeling that helps in boosting your self-esteem. During expressive arts-based therapy, when you create a piece of admirable art or discover something new about yourself during the creative process, you get a sense of accomplishment.
When the art forms in focus includes group dance, drama, or music sessions, you get a chance of building a sense of community. This will also make socializing easier and you might also be able to relate to a few people. Having a group of people you can somehow, if not entirely, relate to, will help you be comfortable in your own skin and will in turn boost your esteem.
Now there you go, everything you need to know about expressive arts therapy. Hopefully, our article was able to shed some light on this unconventional form of therapy and was able to solve some of your queries.
However, we would like to recommend you consult with your mental health advisor before starting your therapy sessions for proper guidance.
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1. How does an expressive arts therapy session work?
Expressive arts therapy can be done in a group setting or individually, and it might include your therapist assigning you a specific aim for creative arts, such as drawing your feelings about a certain circumstance. It might also entail unfettered expression to see what emerges. Creative arts therapy can be used with other types of psychotherapy. For example, you may be seeing an expressive arts therapist who is also trained in psychodynamic therapy or CBT.
2. What other issues can be helped with expressive arts therapy?
A lot can be treated with the help of expressive arts therapists, and some of the issues that can be treated through this therapeutic process are:
- Communication issues
- Personality disorders
- Anger issues
- Eating disorders
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Edited by Pooja Motwani