What is Expressive Art or Creative Arts Therapy?
The world is showing us the importance of art and creativity. Art is above all an expression of emotion and humanity. The creative and expressive process can therefore help you and your counselling clients communicate your inner experience when you run out of words. Therapists also need support and self-care to avoid burn out in this stressed-out life.
The teacher of our new Expressive Art Therapy training courses Irene Dudley-Swarbrick PhD describes her own path to discovering that art is an expression of the soul.
Does this ring a bell?
I have a memory of being in infant school, stood in front of an easel, painting a beautiful picture with a line of blue at the top for sky. Along comes a teacher – ‘that’s not how sky is, it should be blue all the way down’. And there it was. The first time someone told me how my creations should look. And what they thought of them. And how the world SHOULD look on the paper. I remember feeling confused and that I’d done something wrong.
Believe me, that is not what Expressive Art Therapy is about! When you use expressive art therapy activities for yourself or with clients there’s no expecting images to look a certain way. Or even look like anything at all. Only whatever lines, marks, smudges, blobs, or maybe a word on the paper that expresses how you feel at that moment. If I’d known then what I know now I’d have probably given that teacher a stern Paddington Bear stare (don’t think I’d have had the words!). In fact, I would let her know I wasn’t in the least bothered about what she wanted my image to look like. In short, it was my way of showing how I felt about my world, how it looked to me.
And that’s what Person-Centred Expressive Art Therapy is about
It’s never ‘art’ as in it should look like something. On the contrary, no artistic ‘skill’ is ever expected or even needed. It’s above all about using any media in any way that helps for you or a client. It’s always about being guided by what the client says about it. In the same way, about being curious, empathic, and respectful.
This way of working uses what’s called the Creative Connection®, where you start with one media and then intuitively move to another to deepen the feelings, insights, sensing. We might move from mark making into clay – simply putting feelings into the clay, not trying to make it look like anything. Or into words written on the image, or in a letter describing the feelings. We might stand together using dance drama and see if our bodies want to move with a feeling, or we might gather materials and make a collage. Bringing together visual art and design.
So, what is Expressive Arts?
This way of working has brought me all of what I hope it offers clients. In particular, insights, connecting with my felt sense, emotional growth and healing. Also, respite, a-coming-home-to myself, self-compassion and self-awareness. The list can go on and does. You will in fact find your own words for how this approach impacts and changes your relationship with yourself, and others. I only know this.
Therefore, in my work as a therapist, I completely believe in Irvin Yalom’s mantra “It’s the relationship that heals, the relationship that heals, the relationship that heals – my professional rosary” (Yalom, 1989, p.91).
This way of working creates the conditions for healing relationships. That might be with yourself, with others, or for your clients. I look forward to sharing your journey with you.
You can find more details of our Integrative Sandplay, Working Creatively with Trauma, creative supervision and Expressive Arts trainings on our website jillcartertraining.co.uk or by emailing us firstname.lastname@example.org.
We offer courses face-to-face in the UK and online for counsellors and therapists as well as others in the mental health field.
Our courses are offered at introductory, certificate and diploma levels. You can apply online via the website.