On my blog entry entitled We are the Ones Who Heal Ourselves, a reader shared in the comments about expressive therapy. I confess that I knew very little about expressive therapy, so I asked him to explain further. Here is an excerpt of his description:
I think it is very very personal…Your writing here is expressive therapy. Perhaps think of what it would be like to write only to yourself and no one commented then it would not be expressive therapy rather a journal.
For me I need to do it with my therapist. It is much without words. I am totally self directed. It does not work for me to have someone give an instruction. That is art therapy and my intellect just takes over. That is not what I need.
My therapist had all sorts of things like puppets and a sand tray. Pretty much in the context of my relationship with my therapist it just happens. For me there has to be a very special relationship…In a way expressive work gives me relief and psychoanalysis gives me understanding. If I am not mistaken you once described hitting a pillow that is expressive therapy. I can do a lot with a box of 8 crayons and a piece of paper. Just happens. It is well not art. ~ MFF
About a week after reading this comment, I had the pleasure of meeting a woman who worked as an expressive art therapist for a number of years. She did a great job explaining expressive therapy to me. In a nutshell, she said that it is an outlet a person can use to express feelings and emotions. This can be done with painting, sculpting, drawing, etc., but it doesn’t even have to be art-related. Expressive therapy can be done through drama, writing, or any other way that you find to express yourself.
She gave me a few examples of prompts she used in group art therapy sessions. She might invite the class to think about how they would cross a chasm and then express it in some manner such as drawing or painting. My first thought was teleportation. Someone else’s might be to jump, build a bridge, or another method. The resulting expression would reveal something about the person’s feelings or emotions.
Another example she gave me was to think about an unpleasant experience. She said that lots of her patients would draw a rape scene while others might choose something completely different. There was no “right” or “wrong” response.
Ultimately, the goal is to give yourself another outlet for expressing your feelings and emotions. In her case, she was leading a group art therapy class, so she needed to use prompts. As individuals, we have many forms of expressive therapy from which to choose. Some might be fine to express alone while others should be done in the presence of a therapist.
For example, I know a woman who broke through a pane of glass (under her therapist’s supervision) as a way of expressing “breaking through” her emotions. I did expressive therapy (but did not know it was called that) when I broke an entire bagful of popsicle sticks and threw them against the wall. Expressive therapy can be as creative as you are. What matters is that it is providing your feelings and emotions with a “voice.”
Photo credit: Hekatekris