Healing Through Expressive Arts Therapy

There are many different paths one can take to healing through Expressive Arts Therapy. Let’s begin by looking at a major component of this process, which is allowing the creative process to begin.

Releasing the Creative Spirit
Our healing journey is made possible by opening to our creative process. We invite flow again. We say, “Ah there you are, I’ve missed you.” When flow is permitted, we open a channel to buried treasures just beneath the surface of our unconscious yearning. We wonder why we waited so long to let go to our creative spirit. Perhaps we were bound by obligations, commitments, stress, and mundane efforts to keep our status quo. Whatever the reason, we find some comfort in releasing to our creative process again. Not all releasing requires that you pick up a paint brush, write a poem, or perform a yoga pose. And process isn’t just for painters, dancers, or musicians; it is blessed upon everyone in unique and interesting ways. I often find wandering in a gourmet kitchen store or letting my mind relax while sipping tea on a park bench to be useful when in need of some flow. You may prefer a brisk walk, baking a cake, or perusing a secondhand store as adequate letting-go activities. It is the releasing to yourself that is beneficial. It is the simple act of saying, “I matter enough” to allow myself this moment of time to release to what wants to come through me. Find what works for you, and don’t be afraid to try something new. There are jewels awaiting you when releasing to the unknown.

We instantly know the feeling of decentering when we’ve hit it. It may come across as a silly fit of giggling or a playful rousing of exuberant combustive energy while forgetting the worries of the day. Decentering lies at the heart of Expressive Arts Therapy. It is letting go to the “imaginal reality through play, art-making or ritual” (Knill, 2005). It’s as if time has passed and we have forgotten, at least for a moment, the demands of the day and have awakened to the essence of ourselves by dropping into our senses. It is here that we notice and say to ourselves, “I’ve forgotten you.” Here, we release our creative spirit, welcome ourselves back home, and find missing parts of ourselves again. We get there not by way of doing, tasking, or driving, but by way of letting go to our deepest self—the playful unconditional child. We step away from ourselves as we know ourselves to be—lawyer, chef, accountant, candlestick maker—and release to the part of ourselves that doesn’t know, doesn’t plan, and doesn’t perceive what is going to happen next. This is the essence of decentering. Here, Expressive Arts Therapy may act as a vessel, assisting in bridging the gap between this tension of restriction and the releasing to flow.

Aligning With the Soul
Once we have been able to decenter from the outside work and into ourselves, the opportunity arises to align with the soul—the spiritual or nonmaterial aspect of ourselves. This alignment breathes new life into our expression by recalling a weightless way of being that we may have been missing. When we align with the soul, we say, “I remember you.” The lost part of our true being settles in to the wanting, needing, and arising of forgotten passions that our soul has longed for. Here, utilizing expressive arts, we might play with wild abandon, release to dance, stomp our feet, shake a tambourine, and howl at the moon. We remember our essence and it feels good. Whirling about, we thrust into our forgotten freedom and free our soul to experience again. We drop our roles, egos, and worries and rest into the place that we know satisfies us the most. When we allow this to happen, new information arises that we were not privy to before. Our insatiable longing is satisfied for a moment. At last, we have come home again.

Integration is a gathering and trying on of the bits and pieces we discover as we align with the soul. We have an opportunity to reflect, bring together, reinvent, and make ourselves new again. We can discard worn out habits, shed old beliefs, and remove residual roles of the past. We embark on meaning-making and try on this new information. Reflecting, we might take moments to journal our thoughts and ask ourselves, “What just happened—what does this mean?” Here, our process becomes one of answers and questions. Like trying on new shoes, we wonder, how does this fit?

Whether it is an instant “aha” or a deep look at a lifestyle change, we ponder the new information and attempt to assimilate it through our senses. Although not an expressive arts requirement, we might create a collage of images to bring together a clearer picture, write a lyric to express our feelings, or choreograph a narrative dance piece. Whatever comes to us, this is where we try on “Is this me; am I you?” The ego and spirit join hands and ultimately decide the usefulness of the new information. This process, throughout our lifetime, returns again and again.

Knill, P., Levine, E. G., Levine, S. K. (2005). Principles and Practice of Expressive Arts Therapy: Toward a Therapeutic Aesthetics. London, UK: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Related articles:
The Benefits of Expressive Arts Therapy
Creativity as Innovation Combined with Utility (And How it Works in Counseling)
Active Mood States Encourage Creativity

© Copyright 2012 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Douglas Mitchell, LMFT

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • WQ

    February 16th, 2012 at 1:12 PM

    Always found it liberating to be involved with arts and other stuff while depressed or feeling low in order to overcome the same.Its not the best of times to be ‘productive’ in your chosen art but it sure is a good way to get over the problems.

  • Zane

    February 16th, 2012 at 2:34 PM

    Life in general can be so stifling that it often feels like we are not really allowe dor even encouraged to be what and who we want to be.
    But the expressive arts allow us to be who we are and to show what we are really feeling in a way that is liberating and freeing.
    After all, isn’t the goal for most of us to be all that we can and to discover just who we are?
    That feels good when it is allowed to happen in a way that is encouraged and not threatening.

  • nick

    February 17th, 2012 at 9:40 AM

    there is jus’ so much art can help you in.to express a thought,to overcome sadness,to widen your horizons,to feel better about yourself,to make someone else feel better,there is nothing like arts.there is just that sense of accomplishment in doing the occasional cartooning when work gets too hectic and really it keeps me goin’.

  • Liz Goode

    February 18th, 2012 at 4:14 PM

    As a visual artist I can only say thank you and thank you again for emphasizing just how important art can be for all people in all aspects of their lives

  • Douglas

    March 4th, 2012 at 7:09 PM

    It is great to see all the positive feedback in how everyone is expressing themselves. Liz, a little doodle now and then is a great way to add a little spice to your life!

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