Today I Feel…Green with a Splash of Yellow?

As a therapist who uses alternative strategies in her practice to facilitate communication and self-expression, I realise how intimidating the term “art” can appear to a new client. You’re probably thinking, “It was hard enough for me to come to counselling in the first place, now I’m going to embarrass myself and show my complete lack of artistic abilities.” Interestingly, I can easily classify myself in the “artistically challenged” category, which may seem unusual for someone who implements these strategies in her practice. Well, expressive art therapies have no room for the inner critic, and are not concerned with the final project or outcome of the activity.

The umbrella term “expressive arts therapies” can include activities such as drawing, painting, photography, yoga, dance, movement, clay, sand tray, collage, music, poetry, and writing, used in therapeutic ways. Using expressive techniques with your counsellor, or even on your own, can allow you to tap into your creative energies, and ignite the self-healing properties that you already possess.  Expressive art techniques and activities can be used as self-healing tools that promote your own strengths, and help you dig deeper into issues of concern.

You do not need to be an artist to benefit from alternative forms of expression. These techniques can help you explore issues that you are not yet ready to verbalise, or simply do not know how to express in words. They can offer calming properties when anxiety and stress is high, or can energise and revive you when feeling sad or depressed. People young and old with barriers to their communication can greatly benefit from expressive arts techniques, and can gain an opportunity for healing when there has been a lack of success with traditional talk-therapies. Children greatly benefit from the use of expressive arts therapies, especially as they may not yet have the means to verbally express their issues or emotions.

Counsellors who are not certified “Art Therapists” can still integrate expressive arts practices into their professional work, and should consider these alternative forms of exploration if it fits for their client. Expressive arts techniques can be designed and modified to fit into and compliment many, if not all, theoretical approaches. These techniques can be used to build and enhance the therapeutic relationship; when the client is not yet comfortable with verbally expressing feelings and emotions, art can provide a safe and alternative means of allowing for self-exploration, while building trust with their counsellor for understanding their needs.

Even at home, individuals can greatly benefit from implementing expressive arts practices to improve their wellbeing. Journaling or drawing thoughts and feelings, working with clay to relieve tension, meditating to music, taking pictures to capture inner feelings, or simply turning up your music and letting loose with dance or movement can prove therapeutic. The key is to finding what activity or practice is the best fit for you (or your client), and using it in a way that gets you closer to your therapeutic goals.

Don’t be scared away by the misconception that this approach is reserved solely for “artists” and “creative” individuals. You do not need to place yourself in either of those categories reap the benefits of using expressive arts in your healing journey… and who knows, you may find a new activity or hobby that you truly enjoy.

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