What Is Expressive Arts Therapy?
Expressive arts therapy is a field of mental health that uses the creative process to help individuals and communities to heal physically, mentally, and emotionally. This is done through very simple means of artistic expression like lines, colors, shapes, sounds, and movement.
Applying personal meaning and symbolism to these forms of expression helps people to come to terms with the hardships and trauma that they face in their lifetime. It provides a safe means of inwardly interpreting the thoughts and feelings that might not come to the surface easily in other disciplines of therapy.
With the gentle foundation of a caring and trusting therapeutic relationship, your expressive arts therapist supports you to connect with your innate creativity through drawing, painting, sculpting, collaging, moving, singing, and writing.
To benefit from this form of therapy, you don’t have to be an expert artist; any level of art experience is welcome as you’ll be gently guided through the creative process for personal reflection, self-expression, coping, self-care, and healing.
Expressive Art Therapy goes one step beyond traditional talk therapy by acknowledging that each individual’s healing process is unique to their own psyche. Each form of expression is unique and will be carefully selected to suit the patient. Finger painting may be used for children as a fun and low skill activity that helps them open up to their therapist, a more mature patient can turn to journaling or writing as a way to communicate their feelings, and someone who has a deep connection to their therapist could use movement or dancing instead.
Based on the patient’s inclination and preferences, one of the following creative modalities are used in therapy:
- Visual Art
- Dance / Movement
- Drama / Theatre
- Writing / Poetry / Journaling
Clients in therapy are encouraged to create art that expresses their inner world rather than their rendition of the outer world. That’s what separates EAT from an art tutorial — the latter is focused on teaching techniques and creating a finished product, whereas art therapy is more about focusing on the inner experience.
The therapist won’t give precise instructions, instead letting the patients direct their work around cues such as “paint something valuable to you.” It’s not just the finished work that offers insights into the patient’s mentality, but the entire process. The rate of work, colors used, and type of lines drawn can be just as meaningful.
This inner experience highlights thought patterns and opens up pathways to bottled-up emotions that some patients would otherwise hesitate to talk about in traditional therapy.
Developmental Benefits of EAT for Children
Communication and therapy are inseparable — the effectiveness with which clients communicate with their therapists dictates the outcome and quality of the treatment.
While most adults can communicate effectively with their therapists, children can’t always express themselves as effectively for the following reasons:
- Lack of vocabulary and linguistic skills
- Being shy and socially anxious
Expressive art therapy provides children a safe outlet for negative emotions. It aids individual growth by lowering anxiety, improving self-esteem, and building stronger interpersonal connections with people.
Developing social skills at a young age goes a long way and proves to be extremely helpful during adulthood. The love, support, and judgment-free expression that a child experiences during EAT enhances social development.
Wholesome interactions with an expressive arts therapist can inculcate important social skills like empathy, accepting responsibility for one’s actions, and appreciating/accepting the difference between people.
Creating any type of art, regardless of the modality, requires people to tap into their cognitive abilities. For example, when children are asked to depict their feelings using brush strokes and color, it requires them to think, to distinguish between abstract and reality, to understand patterns, and to form mental representations of what is real and what is not.
This experience aids the development of comprehensive thinking capabilities and trains the brain to handle complex thought processes.
One of the biggest challenges that children face is not being able to understand their own emotions and feelings. For them, being angry or in distress can’t always be expressed in words, however, they can express these feelings through art. When they do this, they make it easier for themselves and others to understand what they’re going through, putting them in a better place to offer help.
Aspiring Families: Expressive Arts Therapy Experts in San Diego California
An art therapist is someone who is trained both in art and psychology. Our team of therapists has extensive knowledge about human development, psychological theories, and clinical practices.
Our Registered Arts Therapist, MFT has over 10 years of experience and collaborates closely with the team.
We believe that the creative process has the power to bring about personal reflection which can be profoundly healing. If you have questions or want to know more, contact us today, we’re here to help.