Expressive Arts Therapy
How can expressive arts therapy nourish your soul?
For centuries, self-expression has been an enjoyable, effective avenue for heightened awareness and empowerment. expressive arts therapy, also known as creative arts therapy 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 and expressive therapies developed in Australia in 1987. They combine counselling and multiple modalities including Bioenergetics, body focus, dance, drama, dreamwork, emotional integration, emotional literacy activities, expressive writing, mandala artwork, movement, music, sandplay therapy and symbol work.
This modality may enhance emotional, cognitive, and physical integration. Many therapists apply expressive arts therapy in conjunction with psychotherapeutic models such as psychodynamic, humanistic, cognitive, developmental, systems, narrative and solution-focused processes.
Expressive arts therapy aligns with the Greek concept of poiesis, 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) and the Australian, New Zealand and Asian Creative Arts Therapies Association (ANZACATA). This connects all creative art modalities. Registration by the IEATA 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 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, 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 and reduce stress, as well as people who have experienced trauma or loss in their lives.
Expressive arts therapy may assist in relieving symptoms related to:
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Anorexia, bulimia and eating disorders
- Behavioural issues
- Brain fog and clarity
- Circulation and cardiovascular conditions
- Communication and self-expression
- Concentration, focus and problem solving
- Confidence and self-esteem
- Dementia and alzheimer's
- Love and Relationships
- Memory and cognitive function
- Mobility and movement
- Mood imbalances
- Motivation and procrastination
- Pain relief
- PTSD and trauma
- Speech and language issues
- Stress and tension
What to expect from an expressive arts therapy session
A client-centred approach makes every Expressive Arts Therapy 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.