Art therapy: the expressive therapy that enhances emotional wellbeing
A review of the applications and characteristics of art therapy as an expressive therapy.
Expressive arts therapy as a therapeutic medium has been developed since the last half of the 20th century and continues to grow in scope and definition.and currently continues to grow in scope and definition.
What characterizes expressive arts therapy is the work, individual or group, with one or more artistic modalities: art, music, dance/movement, theater, and poetry/writing to foster awareness, stimulate emotional growth, and improve relationships with others.
Can art be used as therapy to improve emotional well-being?
The essential premise is that expressive experiences (visual art, music, dance, and theater), allow the participant to explore unknown facets of oneself, communicate non-verbally and achieve greater understanding..
One of the most widely accepted theories of expressive arts therapy is the proposal of Natalie Rogers, daughter of psychologist Carl Rogers, and her cross-modal, integrative "person-centered" work.
Her theory postulates that one art form naturally stimulates another.For example, creative movement can affect what is expressed through drawing, and drawing can activate what is felt or thought.
Beyond the aesthetic experience
From a Gestalt therapy perspective expressive therapies are used with the multimodal approach by combining art, movement and other modalities (Rhyne, 1973/1995). For transpersonal therapists the combination comes in the form of imagery, music, movement and creative writing in their work with clients (Farelly, 2001).
Art therapy is often interpreted as the interrelation of the arts with theories of creativity and imagination, rather than integration with psychological principles.
It is true that each person has a different expressive style. For example, one person may be more verbal, another more visual, and a third more kinesthetic or tactile. Beyond the visual arts, the therapy facilitates expression in the most appropriate way for the participant with a clinical approach.
What an expressive therapy session looks like
A typical session may begin with a warm-up activity, such as spontaneous movement, recognition of space and materials, a meditation, for example.
Some people may be naturally drawn to one art form over another and begin to express themselves without any suggestion, the art therapist facilitates finding the expressive form that is most comfortable and non-threatening to the participant..
The art therapist may suggest a transition to another expressive modality, with the purpose of facilitating spontaneity, stimulating creativity and enhancing the feelings of the experience, allowing a deeper understanding.
In the final part of the session the individual can reflect on the images, words, sounds or movements created and discuss the process of creation with the art therapist..
The art therapy approach offers creative modalities through which participants express their thoughts and feelings, communicate non-verbally, reach understanding and experience the healing potential of the creative process.
What are the benefits of art therapy?
Among the benefits of art therapy, the ones that stand out the most are these:
- Expressing beyond words. Art therapy allows to address problems or express them in a way that transcends spoken or written language.
- Explore the ability to create and imagine. It gives more confidence and improves the image of oneself and the creative capacity, adopting more security, better self-esteem and self-worth.
- Outside the "traditional" therapeutic environment it can liberate the participant, and help to identify and address problems that were difficult to externalize in the course of conventional psychotherapy.
Is it necessary to be creative and have artistic talent?
In art therapy it is not necessary to have artistic talent, nor is it necessary to be an artist.. Although it may seem different and unnatural at first, it is usually because you are not used to communicating through art.
However, the creative process is the most rewarding aspect as well as feeling more comfortable with this new form of expression. The goal in art therapy is not aesthetic but self-knowledge through the creative process.
(Updated at Mar 28 / 2023)