PsychBeat is a monthly column by Shruti Venkatesh which intends to look at innovative therapies that can be used to counter mental health issues.
Expressive Arts Therapy (EAT), a form of therapy which is relatively new in its formation but is rapidly gaining popularity, combines psychology and various arts (movement, drawing, painting, sculpting, music, writing, sound, and improvisation) to promote emotional growth and healing.
“Basic art, movement, dance, clay, toys, drama and other artistic modalities are carried out in a non-competitive and non-judgmental manner so that an individual is able to listen to the inner messages, feelings and emotions that are stored in the body and mind.”, says Bhaktiveda Dhaul, Founder of Pranaah and Expressive Arts Therapist. EAT facilitates change by using different art forms as therapeutic instruments. Journaling, storytelling, reading literature and poetry, and making life maps, videos, finger painting and memory books are other forms of EAT. It is important to understand that Expressive Arts Therapy focuses on self-discovery and emotional growth and not on perfecting the concerned art form.
Expressive Arts Therapy can be used on people from all age groups, individually as well as in groups. Children can benefit greatly from Expressive Arts Therapy. Namrata Jain, Psychologist, Wellness Coach and Expressive Arts Therapist, says “Often children don’t have the language skills to verbalize their problems. Expressive Arts Therapy taps into the right brain nodules where the language of images, ideas, and creative expression exist. EAT awakens a child’s imagination and creativity to help them discover who he/she is and how to engage his senses. EAT helps children know more of themselves which in turn helps them know others around them and at large becoming more humble, respectful and mature as adults.”
EAT also helps geriatric clients to stay involved and connected with their families. As Dhaul suggests, “Expressive art therapy can help the geriatric population by giving them a sense of belonging and inner peace as the activities are fun and stress releasing which improves mood and gets out the free inner child.” This form of therapy has been implemented in many countries now.
Some of the disorders which can use EAT as a treatment strategy includes Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), developmental disabilities, eating disorders, anxiety, depression, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and chronic medial illnesses. The approach is described as “integrative” when different art techniques are intentionally used in combination with traditional medicines to promote improved health.
Much of the core of EAT is focused on the concept of self-exploration and creation. People have the opportunity to explore themselves differently through the use of art and this proves to be a catalyst for the therapeutic process. Simple tasks like painting and movement help people recapitulate their past and engage in catharsis and working together with your expressive arts therapist also helps in the faster resolution of conflicts.
Creativity plays a key role as well in EAT as it is assumed that any form of art and its creation arises from the emotional depth of a person. This allows for creativity to become an outlet for the expression of traumas, troubles and emotional as well as behavioral issues. The central idea is the process and journey of creation and not the final result which helps to gain clarity in communicating one’s inner feelings without verbal barriers. The results are not particularly left for interpretation from the therapist but instead clients are encouraged to find personal meanings in their creations, hence the focus on self-discovery and exploration.
Nirali Rajgor, an aspiring Expressive Arts therapist, student of Psychology and trained dancer for 10 years, explains, “Dance and other such art forms are extremely beneficial for both one’s physical and mental health. It teaches you how to be comfortable with your own body. As they are expressive forms, those who feel they lack verbal communication skills find it a beautiful way to express, to get their emotions out and show it to the world. This makes it very adaptable for therapeutic purposes. EAT is an evolving field where there is so much scope for improvement and research. I am very hopeful of its success and truly believe that EAT can lead to a renewed self-discovery in people.”
Like any other therapy, EAT too has its own limitations. Many people find it difficult to break out of their shells and engage in art forms like dance, music or poetry. Therapists experience a large amount of resistance from participants because they believe that they are not creative and have never been, hence, a therapy such as EAT may not benefit them. There is also a misconception that it is necessary to produce something artistic as a result of the sessions which makes clients hesitate opting for EAT. On the other hand, there are participants who may in fact have prior experience in certain art forms like painting which is inhibitory to the therapeutic process as the participant refuses to budge from their learned practices.
Although expressive modalities have gained increasing popularity and acceptance in the recent years, there is still plenty of research left to be done in terms of the different applications and types of groups it can be applied to. However, mental health professionals have recognized the many qualitative benefits which EAT provides. This is reflected upon by Dhaul, who says, “Expressive Art Therapy helps in understanding what is important and what issues need to be addressed. Awareness is the first step to recovery and that is what the power of nonverbal activities carried out in EAT can bring up for a person.”
1. Expressive Arts Therapy. (2017, July 27). Good Therapy.
2. Dunphy, K., Mullane, S., and Jacobsson, M. (2013), The effectiveness of expressive arts therapies: A review of the literature. Melbourne: PACFA.
3. Malchiodi, C. (2014, June 30). Creative Arts Therapy and Expressive Arts Therapy. Psychology Today.
4. Bhaktiveda Dhaul, Founder of Pranaah and Expressive Arts Therapist.
5. Namrata Jain, Psychologist, Wellness Coach and Expressive Arts Therapist. Jain has recently started a program called Small Steps… Big Leaps which focuses on children and imparting life skills.
Shruti Venkatesh is the National Lead (Mental Health) at One Future Collective.
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