What is expressive arts therapy?
Expressive arts therapy is a form of therapy that uses dance, drama, music, poetry, and art to enhance one’s overall well-being. The arts are used to let go, express, and to release. Expressive Arts Therapies, also known as Arts Therapy, Creative Arts Therapy and Expressive Therapy, are used in a therapeutic, rehabilitative, educational, and community setting to foster holistic health, communication, and expression (National Coalition of Creative Arts Therapies Associations, 2010).
People have been using the arts as tools for healing for many centuries. In the early 1940’s Expressive Arts Therapy became formally recognized and has since provided meaningful therapeutic experiences for people of all ages in a variety of treatment settings. There is no right or wrong way in the arts which encourages the clients to be free with self-expression. Expressive Arts Therapy is not about interpreting color or images, and is not necessarily used for diagnosis, although it can help assess an individual’s needs or progress. The focus is on the process of making art and exploring what the piece means to the individual, not on the aesthetic outcome (American Art Therapy Association, 2010).
Through the arts, people can communicate ideas and feelings that may be hard to put into words, such as negative memories, anger, stress, and other personal experiences. It has been shown that use of the arts can aide in emotional conflicts, self-awareness, developing social skills, managing behavior, reducing anxiety, and increasing self-esteem. A free form of expression gives the client pride in their own work by reducing the need to compare themselves to others, an unfortunate problem seen today. Arts Therapy does not require artistic ability or previous experience (National Coalition of Creative Arts Therapies Associations, 2010).
Natalie Rogers, an Expressive Art Therapist, says “our feelings and emotions are an energy source. That energy can be channeled into the expressive arts to be released and transformed. The creative connection is a process that brings us to our inner core or essence which is our life energy (Creation Spirituality, 1993).”
How did expressive arts therapy begin?
Expressive Arts Therapy became an established profession in the 1940s when psychologists became interested in drawings made by their patients with mental illnesses. They discovered that certain developmental, cognitive, and emotional insights could be gathered from the drawings. Arts Therapy began to be integrated with traditional verbal therapy to enhance recovery. Since that time, Arts Therapy has grown extensively both in connection with and independent of traditional verbal therapy (Expressive Media Inc., n.d.).
What types of training do expressive arts therapists have?
Expressive Arts therapists are professionally trained to provide clients with the best and most appropriate creative techniques and interventions. Anyone can be an expressive art therapist provided that they undergo the appropriate training. Knowledge in psychology is basic to all training, but from there training typically includes getting a masters degree in counseling with specialized instruction in implementing the art, music, poetry, and dance/movement therapeutically. Some professionals extend their education and obtain a PhD in expressive therapy, but there are only a few doctoral level programs. Each therapist must follow a code of ethics and standards of clinical practice and are encouraged to obtain a mental health counseling license from the state they reside in (Lesley University, 2010).
Although expressive arts therapy is unique, the clinical goal is similar to other mental health professions. This goal is to facilitate the client’s growth and positive change. Expressive arts strive to integrate their clients physical, emotional, cognitive, and social functioning to enhance their self-awareness.
Is there a such thing as Music Therapy, Dance Therapy or Drama Therapy?
Yes, these are included under the umbrella term Expressive Arts Therapy however each is unique in its own way! Some therapists choose to specialize in just one area, so there are people out there with the titles of Dance Therapist, Music Therapist, Art Therapist and Drama Therapist.
Visit each discipline’s official website to read more about their specialty:
Does Health Services offer expressive arts therapy?
Yes! We integrate expressive arts into many of our individual education/counseling sessions and our Being Fierce and Fabulous Women's Empowerment Group.
To learn more about expressive art therapy or to make an appointment contact, call (603) 862-3823 or visit Health Services, Room 249 (second floor).
Want to learn more about expressive art therapy?
Each year, creative art therapists sponsor workshops, exhibitions, and career events to share their work with the pubic and promote awareness about creative arts internationally. The following websites have up to date information about expressive art therapy including hot topics, national organizations, professional training, and work from therapists themselves.
- International Expressive Arts Therapy Association
- National Coalition of Creative Arts Therapies Associations
- Lesley University: Expressive Therapies Division
- The Society for the Arts in Healthcare
- Expressive Media
- Cathy Malchiodi
- Natalie Rogers
Expressive Media Inc. (n.d). Art therapy information.
Lesley University. (2010). Expressive therapies.
Malchiodi, C. (2009). About art therapy.
National Association for Drama Therapy. (2010). FAQ about drama therapy.
National Coalition of Creative Arts Therapies Associations. (2010). NCCATA home.
Rogers, N. (1993). Spiritual Connection. Expressive Arts Therapy. 28-30.