A grade one class was asked three questions: Can you draw? Can you sing? Can you dance? The entire class responded with a resounding "YES!" Five years later the same children were asked the same three questions. The majority of the students responded with a definite “NO - I cannot draw, I cannot sing and I cannot dance."

We learn to limit, judge and criticize ourselves very early in life. When we convince ourselves that we cannot do something, whether it is a creative pursuit or otherwise, we begin to close the door on opportunities for new experiences and learning.

Expressive Arts Therapy encourage the encounter with learning and new opportunities through the use of the arts, in a non-directive and supportive environment. It is an environment that is free from judgment or ideas about talent or the meaning of what is evoked. Most people who participate in the work do not consider themselves to be "artists" and no particular background, skill or ability is needed to be involved. Sometimes the arts experience requires tools such as paint, clay or markers. Other times it is as simple as making a movement, a gesture or a sound. Words are also used throughout the work and upon reflection they may take the form of storytelling or poetic expression.

While the focus of the work is to allow a direct experience through art making, it also provides a microcosmic look at the basic life patterns, attitudes and beliefs that bind our lives. During a session the participant is encouraged to reflect in a mindful way and to use the arts to develop and explore the basic themes that are either brought to a session or discovered in the process of the arts encounter. The artistic choices, thoughts, feelings and emotions that are shared during a session are considered to be an important part of the experience. They are met by the therapist with respect and sensitivity and are understood through the lens of collaborative exploration, rather than through any kind of interpretation or analysis.

Using the arts in such a way provides a gateway to new thresholds. The participant is able to experiment, shape and open to the surprises that come with the movement into territory that was previously unknown. This opening can provide profound recognition and clarification, and the insights can be applied significantly to alter awareness in everyday life. It is an experience of tremendous empowerment.

What is the role of art making in expressive arts therapy?

The “creative act” and its imaginative processes, play a central role in expressive arts therapy. Expressive arts therapists, view the creative, artistic process within the therapy setting   and the relationship that evolves between the participant, expressive arts therapist, the arts engagement and the arts creation, as an opportunity to actively engage with the  issues brought to therapy. By working with the sensory properties of materials, and various modalities, by taking action and literally forming responses to life circumstances, clients are invited to self reflect, make choices, navigate limitations and frustrations, express  and explore solutions.

Do expressive arts therapist talk with their clients?

Expressive arts therapists often begin a session with a short discussion of the difficulty from the perspective of the client. Once this has been established the expressive arts therapist initiates a movement toward the arts. This central movement may take many forms.  The basic idea is to allow clients to access under utilized resources which often present surprising information.  There will be times when the expressive arts therapist and client, will engage and speak with each other throughout a session. Other times, there may be a natural silence that emerges in the arts process. The ratio of verbal and non verbal interaction is largely determined by the context, the client population and the individual needs of the client.

Talking in expressive arts therapy takes a different route than that of a counseling session. The expressive arts therapist moves away from the difficulty through the use of the arts. Later, when the client has completed their work, there is a discussion of what happened in the session and the expressive arts therapist will support the client in taking notice of the ways in which their work and their process in the arts, relates to the difficulty that they presented when they came in.

Do clients always engage in the arts?

Not always, expressive arts therapists are trained to adapt creative strategies to the needs, interests and abilities of the  client.