Expressive arts therapy is a multimodal approach to therapy that is similar to its cousins drama therapy and music therapy. Expressive arts therapy may incorporate writing, drama, dance, movement, painting, and/or music. Alongside talk therapy, or in some cases, exclusive to talk therapy, clients are encouraged to explore their responses, reactions, and insights via pictures, sounds, explorations, and encounters with art processes. Informed by the unfolding process of creating and working with imagination, a connection occurs that supports clients to create new experiences, insight, and direction. A person is not required to have artisitc ability to use or benefit from expressive arts therapy.
History of Expressive Arts Therapy
Relatively new in its formation, expressive arts therapy began circa 1970 at the Leslie College Graduate School in Cambridge, MA. Paolo Knill, a leader in the field, founded the International Network of Expressive Arts Therapy Training Centers and in 1984 began the ISIS European Training Institutes. Expressive arts therapy was formed as a distinct practice alongside those modalities that are at the root of its creation. It utilizes all expressive modalities such as art, music, drama, and dance therapies. Although expressive arts therapists are not experts in all these areas (many have multiple proficiencies), it is their sensitivity and ability to grasp the intermodal technique that they can claim.
The therapeutic impact of expressive arts therapy is on four major areas:
Expressive Arts Therapy Process
Use of the expressive arts multiplies the avenues by which a client can seek meaning, clarity, and healing. It deepens and transcends traditional talk therapy by acknowledging that each client’s process is unique. While on one hand a client might like talk therapy, another might prefer to use journaling, movement, art, or a combination of different experiences during therapy.
The accessibility of expressive arts therapy is due to the focus being not on artistic outcomes but rather on the process of creating. A client of expressive arts therapy is not required to have any artistic ability, which is often referred to as “low skill, high sensitivity.” Rather, it is through the use of the client’s senses that the imagination can process, flourish, break-way to, and support healing. Intermodal in its approach, expressive arts therapy realizes that all modalities and movement between them supports the expression of all the senses, thereby enhancing the experience of the imagination more fluently in what Paolo Knill referred to as “Crystallization Theory.” Whether painting, viewing an image, moving the body, or journaling, each is unique and, when combined in relationship with the therapist, supports the focus of the creative imagination toward clarity. In brief, an “ah-ha” moment is likely to occur.
Within expressive arts therapy, each creative arts modality is uniquely different, and the use of each is carefully considered by each clinician. For example, journaling might be an appropriate beginning expressive outlet for someone new to therapy. On the other hand, a client who has a deep relationship with their therapist might appreciate the use of movement or drama. Careful use of each modality is determined by the strength, timing, pacing, and readiness of the client and can be used at any point throughout the therapy with clients. Some therapists might use the arts in session or give homework to the client to do between sessions, or they might offer both options. Often a therapist might employ the use a therapeutic arts modality to deepen the work of a specific area of concern, block, or struggle alongside traditional talk therapy. Each use is unique as is the experience and education of each therapist.
Training for Expressive Arts Therapists
Training to be an expressive arts therapist requires at least a master’s degree in counseling with a concentration in Expressive Arts Therapy from an accredited university. Additionally, programs exist that offer certificate programs or studies in expressive arts for those who want to use the expressive arts in related fields like coaching, consulting, and education. There are also BA and PhD options. Training is continuing to grow internationally; for a list of current available resources, please visit the International Expressive Arts Therapy Association (IEATA), which offers a comprehensive resource for all graduate training programs, certificates, and professional development in expressive arts training.
Last updated: 05-14-2013
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