Below are some frequently asked questions about Expressive Arts Therapy. If the answers are unclear or you have further questions, please do not hesitate to contact me!
I have never heard of Expressive Arts Therapy before, is it a new practice?
Expressive Arts Therapy originated in the 1970’s at the Leslie College Graduate school in Cambridge, Massachusetts where it had multiple founders (Shaun McNiff, Paolo Knill, and Norma Canner, to name a few). It was created as a distinct practice, separate from Art Therapy, aiming to integrate all artistic modalities in order to allow for optimal self-expression. Truly however, art as a tool for expression has been inherently practiced since human-kind started making art. From cave paintings over 40 000 years ago, art has been a means for people to express themselves, whether or not they were aware of it.
How does Expressive Arts Therapy differ from Art Therapy?
These days there are many overlaps in the fields of Expressive Arts Therapy and Art Therapy, however we should still consider them distinct practices. Below is a very simple table for understanding the differences.
Expressive Arts Therapy
– engages with the unconscious
– engages with the imagination
– has an interpretive quality and is concerned with assessment
|– no interpretation is done on behalf of the therapist (the client may interpret their own art)
– works with symbols
– does not work with symbols (the client may discover reoccurring images in their art that means something to them personally)
– uses mostly visual art (as well as other modalities)
– always works inter-modally
– rooted in psychodynamic theories
– rooted in depth psychology
Who is Expressive Arts Therapy for?
There are a variety of reasons someone might seek Expressive Arts Therapy and, for the most part, it can be for anyone who is open to its possibilities. People living with anxiety, depression, trauma, addiction, relationship troubles, poor self-esteem, etc. can seek Expressive Arts Therapy. Someone who simply wants to better their emotional state that has not been specifically diagnosed or labelled may also choose to enter the world of Expressive Arts. As an Expressive Arts Therapist it is not my job to label, diagnose, or fix my client’s problems, but rather to enable them to find expression in emotionally stagnant areas through the use of imaginative processes, so they may be able to draw their own conclusions, be able to self-regulate, and ultimately be empowered to take charge of their own life.
What age group is Expressive Arts Therapy suited for?
In my practice, I work with children as young as 4 years old, adults of all ages, and elderly. The age of a client might determine the length of a session and the materials used.
Is Expressive Arts Therapy only for people who consider themselves to be skilled/trained artists?
Absolutely not! Although a trained artist is more than welcome to undergo Expressive Arts Therapy, specific skills are not necessary. Throughout each session the process of creation is emphasized over the art product that may come out of it. A person can come into a session knowing that they will not be asked to draw, paint, or dance something specific right away (or possibly ever). It can sometimes take multiple sessions before an art material is even touched — this is all part of trusting the process!
Which modalities of art will I be using in my session?
This is entirely dependant on YOU, the client! If there is a specific modality you feel most comfortable with, we will likely use that as a starting point. With that said, do not feel as though you need to know which modality you should begin with, that is my job. By building trust, getting to know one another, and being sensitive to the expression at hand, we might discover that pastel drawing is a good starting point which might later invite a poem. Every session is unique, just like the client.
Will I have an art piece to take home at the end of each session?
Not necessarily. Because we will be focusing on the process of creating, it may be that an art piece is fleeting (as would be the case in movement), or that it is incomplete at the end of a session. The opposite could also be true however, and you may find yourself with a painting at the end of each session.
Do I keep my art?
Yes! You may take incomplete and complete artworks with you at the end of each session. Alternatively, you may want to take photos of the art you create and recycle the original copies.