Expressive Arts Therapy

Expressive Arts Therapy

Creative ways to wellbeing

How can expressive arts therapy nourish you?

For centuries, self-expression has been an enjoyable, effective avenue for heightened awareness and empowerment. expressive arts therapy, also known as creative arts therapy[1] or performing arts therapy, recognises that creative connection can bring about realisations and cathartic release. 

Expressive arts therapy began in 1970 at the Lesley College Graduate School in Cambridge, Massachusetts[2] and expressive therapies[3] developed in Australia in 1987. They combine counselling and multiple modalities including Bioenergetics,[4] body focus, dance,[5] drama,[6] dreamwork,[7] emotional integration,[8] emotional literacy activities,[9] expressive writing,[10] mandala artwork,[11] movement,[12] music,[13] sandplay therapy[14] and symbol work.[15]

This modality may enhance emotional, cognitive, and physical integration.[16] Many therapists apply expressive arts therapy in conjunction with psychotherapeutic models such as psychodynamic, humanistic, cognitive, developmental, systems, narrative and solution-focused processes.[17]

Expressive arts therapy aligns with the Greek concept of poiesis,[18] the journey from everyday reality to the creative world of imagination for expression, understanding and evolution. It triggers transformation of thoughts, emotions, and experiences into tangible forms, sounds and movements. This reinforces new neural connections while clearing old, outmoded patterns. 

Expressive arts therapists are not regulated through registration, however many countries have professional associations to ensure high standards are upheld. These include the International Expressive Arts Therapy Association (IEATA)[19] and the Australian, New Zealand and Asian Creative Arts Therapies Association (ANZACATA).[20] This connects all creative art modalities. Registration by the IEATA[21] requires a minimum of a Master’s degree in Expressive Arts Therapy, psychology, fine arts, education, or a related field, supervised clinical work and advanced training at an approved institute. In Australia and New Zealand[22] only graduates from approved courses with a minimum of 750 hours of clinical placement can be accredited. 

Benefits of expressive arts therapy

The therapeutic efficacy of expressive arts therapy requires further empirical evidence, and more research is required to establish the extent of this therapy’s remedial applications. However, a substantial number of studies have reported positive impacts of individual therapies involved in expressive arts therapy including art, dance, drama and music. 

According to the National Coalition of Creative Arts Therapies Associations,[23] expressive and creative arts therapy may benefit a range of people, from helping to improve memory, focus and reality orientation in people with Alzheimer’s Disease, to assisting children with social, developmental, and behavioural issues. Studies have also shown that the modality has helped cancer patients to express their emotions[24] and reduce stress,[25] as well as people who have experienced trauma[26] or loss in their lives. 

Expressive arts therapy may assist in relieving symptoms related to:

Alzheimer’s disease Anorexia, bulimia and eating disorders Anxiety Behavioural issues Brain fog and clarity Bullying Circulation and cardiovascular conditions Communication and self-expression Concentration, focus and problem solving Confidence and self-esteem Creativity Dementia and alzheimer's Depression Love and Relationships Memory and cognitive function Mobility and movement Mood imbalances Motivation and procrastination Pain relief PTSD and trauma Relaxation Speech and language issues Stress and tension Show all

What to expect from an expressive arts therapy session

A client-centred approach makes every Expressive Arts Therapy[27] session different. An initial assessment ascertaining the patient’s preferences and problems should guide the practitioner’s approach. Single or multiple modalities may be used throughout the therapeutic process in a group or solo setting, and you may be able to indicate your preference for the style of session. 

A candid discussion before and after the practice can bring clarity to both your therapist and yourself, and homework may be encouraged to help you further explore issues or themes. 

Individual expression is given free reign without rigid guidelines and there is no expectation of artistic expertise, as it is the process not the end product that is important. 

There’s no right or wrong in expressive arts therapy, only the right to express yourself.

Please speak with your medical professional if you feel that expressive arts therapy might be beneficial for you. They will be able to advise you on choosing a practitioner who is best suited to supporting you in your health concerns. If you have issues or concerns, don’t hesitate to speak to your therapist, who can explore the option of tailoring the session to your individual requirements. 


  1. Creative and Expressive Arts Therapy |
  2. Origins of Expressive Arts Therapy | Lesley College Graduate School in Cambridge, Massachusetts
  3. Expressive Therapies Institute of Australia |
  4. Bioenergetics | 
  5. Dance Movement Therapy |
  6. Dramatherapy |
  7. Dreamwork |
  8. Emotional Integration|
  9. Expressive Art |
  10. Writing Therapy |
  11. What is a mandala and how does it work? | Quora
  12. Movement Therapy |
  13. Music Therapy |
  14. Sand Therapy |
  15. Symbol Work |
  16. Benefits of Expressive Arts Therapy |
  17. Integrative Therapy |
  18. Poiesis |
  19. International Expressive Arts Therapy Association |
  20. Australia, New Zealand and Asia-Pacific Creative Arts Therapies Association |
  21. Professional Registration -
  22. Australia and New Zealand Expressive or Creative Arts Therapist Qualifications |
  23. Research | nccata
  24. Perceived Impact of Participation in a One-Time Expressive Arts Workshop | Military Medicine | Oxford Academic
  25. Creative Arts Interventions for Stress Management and Prevention-A Systematic Review | PubMed
  26. A systematic review of the efficacy of creative arts therapies in the treatment of adults with PTSD | PubMed
  27. Expressive Arts Therapy Session |

Frequently asked questions

Expressive Arts Therapy, also known as creative arts therapy, is a modality that recognizes the power of creative expression for heightened awareness and empowerment. It combines various modalities, including dance, drama, music, and visual arts.

Expressive Arts Therapy began in 1970 at the Lesley College Graduate School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The development of expressive therapies in Australia occurred in 1987, marking the integration of various creative modalities for therapeutic purposes.

Expressive Arts Therapy encompasses a range of modalities, including Bioenergetics, dance, drama, dreamwork, emotional integration, expressive writing, mandala artwork, movement, music, sandplay therapy, and symbol work. These modalities contribute to emotional, cognitive, and physical integration.

Expressive Arts Therapy may enhance emotional, cognitive, and physical integration by encouraging self-expression through creative means. The combination of different arts modalities allows individuals to explore and process their emotions in a holistic manner.

Many therapists apply Expressive Arts Therapy in conjunction with psychotherapeutic models such as psychodynamic, humanistic, cognitive, developmental, systems, narrative, and solution-focused processes. It complements various therapeutic approaches to address individual needs.

Expressive Arts Therapy offers potential benefits such as increased self-awareness, emotional release, and empowerment. It provides a unique avenue for individuals to explore and understand their thoughts and feelings through creative expression.
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