Expressive Arts Therapy: What You Need to Know
Expressive arts therapy is a powerful tool for the treatment of addiction, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and a range of other mental disorders. It involves writing, drawing, painting, playing a musical instrument or singing, sculpting, acting out dramas and other forms of artistic expression.
These creative pursuits allow people to get in touch with their deeper feelings and subconscious drives, to express ideas and concepts that they can’t put into words and to gain deeper feelings of control, safety, normalcy and resilience. You don’t need any special skills or artistic training to benefit from expressive arts therapy; anyone can profit from the pursuit of creative expression in a therapeutic setting.
Expressive Arts Therapy Facilitates Communication
People may find it difficult to express themselves verbally for any number of reasons. Many people simply can’t find the words to express themselves; others may have so thoroughly repressed the experiences and feelings at the root of their psychological turmoil that they can’t access them through willpower alone. Creative expression can help many people who are struggling with trauma, addiction and mental illness to express feelings, memories and beliefs that they have difficulty expressing verbally or that lie deep in the subconscious.
Expressive Arts Therapy Builds Trust in the Therapeutic Relationship
The enhanced communication that expressive arts therapy provides helps build trust between client and therapist and deepen the therapeutic relationship. Artistic expression allows the therapist to support the client in the expression of his or her feelings and to guide the client to deeper self-understanding. For example, the therapist may question the client gently about his or her use of a specific color in a painting.
Expressive Arts Therapy Facilitates Learning and Self-Understanding
Expressive arts therapy invigorates the imagination and can open the door to significant new experiences. Many people find that expressive arts therapy leads them to new discoveries about themselves; it can elicit new feelings, produce new perspectives and even lead to dramatic therapeutic breakthroughs. That’s because expressive arts therapy offers the opportunity for sensory exploration and the unveiling of thoughts, feelings, sights and sounds that lie outside of the realm of a person’s normal experience.
Expressive Arts Therapy Helps Clients Regain Control
People who struggle with issues like addiction and PTSD often feel like they have no control over their emotions or their physical responses to stress. Expressive arts therapy uses creative expression to help people identify and reconnect with their feelings, allowing them to regain a sense of normalcy and control. People who struggle to process trauma can find immense value in expressive tools like art, music and writing. Through expressive arts therapy, people who have struggled with addiction, mental illness and traumatic experiences can begin to feel strong and resilient and to take command of their own recovery process.
Expressing feelings through art also helps people recognize the body’s reactions to trauma and stress and helps them regain control over the physical reactions associated with strong emotions. Many people experience strong, even debilitating, physical reactions when they recall a traumatic memory in talk therapy, for example. Expressive arts therapy can help these people express their experiences and feelings in a way that protects them from a disabling somatic response. This is invaluable for a person struggling to cope with trauma and trying to get some distance from traumatic experiences to process them, so that the recollection of the trauma no longer triggers overpowering physical reactions.
There are innumerable ways to perform and experience expressive arts therapy; the therapeutic methods can easily be tailored to the needs of each individual client to create an enriching and deeply personal experience. It can be an effective tool for the treatment of addiction, PTSD and mental illness when used in conjunction with talk therapy and other forms of treatment. Expressive arts therapy can help people express their most deeply held feelings and beliefs and can provide access to repressed memories as well as to new experiences that can facilitate learning and growth.
Image by VOA – A. Fortier from Wikimedia Commons.