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Expressive - Creative Art in Therapy

“Art and creativity are the soul’s medicines - what the soul uses to minister to itself, cure its maladies and restore its vitality” (McNiff, 2004).

Art therapy was traditionally considered to provide deep healing in indigenous cultures. Art has been paired with psychotherapy in the recent past.

Art therapy works well with adults, teens and children.

Art therapy is aimed at activating the right side of the brain. While the left side of the brain is the more sophisticated, rational, problem-solving side of the brain, the right brain is the more artistic side. It thinks in metaphors, pictures, stories, etc. The right brain is also more connected to the subconscious. Art therapy makes use of those connections, and addresses subconscious issues in a non-threatening, fun environment.

There are two kinds of art therapy: directive and non-directive.

Directive art therapy, deals directly with the issue at hand, for instance, if the child is anxious, the therapist might decide to

do a collage with the child called “my worries”. If the child struggles with self-esteem, she might decide to do an activity such as “The Tree of Life”, which stresses the child’s strengths.

Non-directive art therapy, makes use of any kind of art the child enjoys, such as painting, decoupage or clay. While the child is busy with the activity, the therapist talks to the child about issues which occupy his/her mind and explores thoughts and feelings in a contained, safe and supportive environment.

Both techniques work very well.

Art therapy involves the use of different art materials such as play dough, plasticise, clay, paint, charcoal, crayon, sand etc.

The capacity to make a work of art does not belong to the select few called “artists”. Everyone is innately an artist. Throughout history, art-making has been a basic necessity for health and balance (Wallingford, 2009).

Expressive-creative art therapy is a cousin to art therapy and has emerged as a separate and independent field of professional practice in the past 30 years. Expressive-creative art therapy employs various arts – enactments (role-playing, puppet shows, etc), fantasy, movement, dance, music, drawing, painting, sculpting, writing, improvisation  and sand -play (the client creates a story in the sand-tray, with the use of images and related items. These stories are usually a projection from the client’s life).

According to Rogers (1993), expressive-creative art therapy is a process of discovering ourselves through any art form that comes from a point of emotional depth. Expressive art refers to using the emotional and intuitive aspects of ourselves in

various media.


In my practice, I depend heavily on using expressive-creative art in therapy to achieve the desired results. I find that children and teens love it and that it yields quicker results than through purely the “talking cure”. Another advantage of expressive-creative art therapy is that the clients often take something, which they are proud to have made, home with them. This art then serves as an on-going subconscious reminder to the client of the emotional work he/she has done in therapy, so that the message persists and is re-enforced.  

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