Canadian-born Naomi Leboe spent half her childhood in Japan where she was separated from her parents to attend boarding school from a young age. These early experiences have played a key role in her life and shaped her subsequent career choices.
“I didn’t see my parents a lot. Even when I was younger I had a nanny and babysitters, so I didn’t really attach to my parents very well.” Naomi said. “When I went away to boarding school, there was a lot of abuse that happened there and I experienced a lot of trauma.”
As a teenager, Naomi’s father was diagnosed with cancer and the family returned to Canada. Prior to his passing, whenever Naomi was not at school, she became his primary caregiver while her Mom was studying to become a psychiatric nurse.
After high-school, Naomi decided to get into radio broadcasting. “My mom wanted me to be a news anchor, so we compromised,” she said.
Naomi worked between Tokyo and Vancouver in radio, voice-over and modelling, eventually returning to Canada for the sole purpose of renewing her visa. “That’s when I met my husband, got married and had two kids,” Naomi said.
Back in Canada, Naomi continued expanding her creative pathways. She wrote music, worked on documentaries, corporate videos and commercials, and dabbled in graphic arts. She and her husband worked together building web businesses for people under a company called Coast Creative. With her two boys grown up and (mostly!) moved out, Naomi started reflecting on what she was doing.
“It didn’t feel very fulfilling. We’d gone through some really major stressors and upheavals and I came to this realisation that there was more to life. I wanted to learn more about myself, people and relationships,” Naomi said.
Naomi started taking courses in mindfulness, applied kinesiology and Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) to look at things from a more spiritual perspective. “At the same time, I was pursuing my music and getting into art more. I did some arts based therapy with a friend of mine and I was fascinated by the way I could just sit with art and it would speak to me.”
Naomi was curious about how to incorporate art and music into therapy so she signed up for a professional counselling course and received her life-coaching certificate before deciding once again that it wasn’t the direction she wanted to head. “I had a burning desire to do art or music therapy,” Naomi said. Her research led her to The Vancouver School of Expressive Arts Therapy and after doing some research she decided to enrol in September 2016.
“I had no idea something like this even existed,” Naomi said. “It kind of blew my mind! It seemed to incorporate everything I loved: Somatics, music, arts poetry, storytelling, everything!”
Having no prior experience in movement or dance, Naomi thought it would be the modality that she would struggle with the most, “Surprisingly, it has become my go-to when I work with people. It used to be so far out of my comfort zone,” Naomi said.
“The body has this incredible ability to reveal or express physically what is happening on the inside when the conscious mind can’t access it. It’s very powerful.”
After completing the movement module in first weekend of the program, Naomi started to notice a shift energetically and emotionally within herself that carried over into every day life.
“I used to be uncomfortable in groups and crowds; I never wanted to be at any events or meetings for my husband’s work that required any ‘schmoozing’! But the act of taking a risk, getting up and performing with no dance training and being witnessed doing that put interacting with people on a whole new level.”
Just after that one weekend, Naomi said she was able to go into a social setting with high-level investors at a software launch where she happily conversed with lots of different people at ease.
One of Naomi’s favourite things about Expressive Arts (EXA) is the way it sets people free. “EXA has this profound ability to release us from society’s and our self-imposed cages and to allow our authentic self to come forth.”
Naomi hopes one day to be able to offer Expressive Arts Therapy philanthropically in prisons. “Imagine being able to bring this to people who are not physically free and allow them to feel free on the inside? To help them remove those long-standing beliefs that may have about themselves would be incredibly powerful.”
“We all tell stories about ourselves,” Naomi said. “Expressive Arts has the ability to change that story that we tell about ourselves and the world we live in. When you change the narrative, you change the meaning and it becomes not a black and white world but a beautifully coloured world with all shades and nuances. And that’s where the possibilities start to unfold.”
Naomi said she has become very connected to the need to deal with and release underlying trauma, something she experienced in her boarding school days.
“The desire to help people really led me. EXA has a beautiful way of releasing, processing and honouring experiences. The modalities are so gentle. Often dealing with trauma head-on re-traumatizes people. If we tell our story over and over again it reinforces those neural pathways but with EXA, your body, the art or the sound can tell the story in a different way. It can be abstract but it still speaks.”
Naomi said that her experiences with traditional talk therapy were okay for temporary relief, but she felt it didn’t help her create any effective changes in the long term. Expressive Arts Therapy, on the other hand she said “has the tremendous potential and ability to create dramatic shifts in people in a gentle, beautiful way.”
“In EXA, the transitions are like a flower emerging. This bud appears and it starts to open and unfold and the process is so gentle and delicate. It’s not forced. It’s just natural and gentle. That’s how expressive arts works. A slow, gentle opening and release,” Naomi said.
After finishing her studies, along with offering EXA philanthropically in prisons, Naomi hopes to offer it over distances and to make it accessible wherever people are. She also hopes to eventually have a retreat centre, which brings creative people together to do Expressive Arts work.