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Natural Awakenings Boston

The Benefits of Expressive Arts Therapy

Dec 02, 2015 11:31AM ● By Stephanie Page

Artistic expression can inspire us in unexpected ways and can even help us access a meditative state of mind. Louise Bourgeois, a French- American artist who died in 2010 at the age of 98, said, “Art is a guarantee to sanity.” Simply stated, creating art is good for the soul.

In fact, the healing benefits of art is the foundation of expressive arts therapy, an umbrella term referring to a number of creative arts therapies including art therapy, dance movement therapy, music therapy, drama therapy and psychodrama, play therapy and poetry therapy. It is also its own discipline with a theoretical tradition, international organization and set of practices related to the use of arts in therapy and arts as therapy. Training programs up to the doctoral-level exist worldwide.

A client working with an expressive therapist will likely use more than one artistic modality, as expressive therapists encourage the interrelatedness of the arts. One practice expressive therapists use is the intermodal transfer. Energy and psychic material freed up from one creative endeavor is transferred into a second endeavor. For expressive therapists, it is the process of art making, rather than the end product, that is emphasized.

Creativity, imagination, release, reflection and the therapeutic relationship are all important in expressive therapy. The client is given the tools to develop their own innate creativity and to express themselves within the session. The ability to improvise is taught through expressive therapy interventions. As clients learn to improvise and use their imagination in session, they are better able to problem solve in their lives.

Expressive therapy can be used to treat mental health issues as well as a variety of ailments, including depression, trauma and illness. It is especially helpful for people that have not responded well to talk therapy. It is a natural fit for children and can also be used to treat blocked artists. Outside of mental health clinics, expressive therapists can be found practicing in hospitals, schools and nursing homes.

Stephanie Page is an expressive therapist and licensed mental health counselor in private practice in Saugus, Massachusetts

Art Therapy Exercise

SCRIBBLE DRAWING

Gather markers and paper. Take five deep, centering breaths. Contact a difficult emotional energy that is inside of you. Scribble the energy out onto the paper. Hard! Fast! Or slow and soft. Feel the energy moving out of your body. Keep going until you feel finished. Turn the scribble into images by drawing, painting or using oil pastel over it.

Process:

  • What images arose?
  • What do they symbolize or signify to you?
  • What might they say if they could speak?
  • What do you think they could mean with regards to your unconscious mind?

Intermodal Transfer:

  • Write a list of words that come to your mind as you look at your scribble.
  • Rearrange some or all of the words into a poem. A poem can be as simple as a list of words. Add words if you like.
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