Expressive Arts Therapy

What is Expressive Arts Therapy (EAT)?

EAT is a transdisciplinary, creative intervention, which incorporates components of art therapy, music therapy, dance/movement therapy, and drama therapy.

The arts provide opportunities to develop language and communication, behaviour modification, cognition, fine and gross motor skills, social and life skills, self-esteem and self-expression. The arts are an avenue to bridge humanistic perspectives.

eatWhat does EAT involve? 

The expressive therapies are defined in this text as the use of art, music, dance/movement, drama, poetry/creative writing, play, water play and sand-tray within the context of psychotherapy, counselling, and/or rehabilitation.

Art therapy makes use of visual arts material, along with utilizing commonly available material in creative ways, which helps an individual engage with their emotions and thoughts in a space outside their body. It is a therapeutic means of dealing with emotional conflicts, fostering self-awareness, developing social skills, managing behaviour, solving problems, reducing anxiety, aiding reality orientation, and increasing self-esteem (American Art Therapy Association, 2004).

Music therapy uses music to effect positive changes in the psychological, physical, cognitive, or social functioning of individuals with health or educational problems (American Music Therapy Association, 2004).

Drama therapy is an active approach with the systematic and intentional use of drama/ theatre processes through role-play, and associations to achieve the therapeutic goals of symptom relief, emotional and physical integration, and personal growth.

Dance/movement therapy is based on the premise that the body and mind are interrelated. It is defined as the psychotherapeutic use of movement and as a process that furthers the emotional, cognitive, and physical integration of the individual. Dance/movement therapy effects changes in feelings, cognition, physical functioning, and behaviour (National Coalition of Creative Arts Therapies Associations, 2004b).

Play therapy is the systematic use of a theoretical model, especially within the pediatric population, to establish an interpersonal process as a means to help children prevent or resolve psychosocial difficulties and achieve optimal growth and development (Boyd-Webb, 1999; Landreth, 1991). It builds on the normal communicative and learning processes of children (Carmichael, 2006; Landreth, 2002; O’Connor & Schaefer, 1983).

  • Sandplay therapy is a creative form of play therapy that uses a sandbox and a large collection of miniatures and/or other objects to enable a child to explore the deeper layers within their own psyche.
  • Waterplay therapy is another form of play therapy, through the use of water to help children grow and develop in essential ways. Water is an important natural material that provides a multitude of wonderful development and learning opportunities.

Multimodal therapy/Integrated arts approach involves two or more expressive therapies to foster awareness, encourage emotional growth, and enhance relationships with others. Intermodal therapy distinguishes itself from its closely allied disciplines of art therapy, music therapy, dance/movement therapy, and drama therapy by being grounded in the interrelatedness of the arts. 

How does EAT help?

Each tool within the expressive art therapies has its own benefits. It is used as a stand alone or in combination depending on the needs of the child.

Art Therapy – The innate nature of arts is to foster enrichment; and for many with special needs, the arts also provide opportunities to develop language, cognition, fine and gross motor skills, social and life skills, self-esteem, self-healing and self-expression. Visual arts such as painting, drawing, and sculpture often help to activate the dormant brain areas.

Music Therapy – It provides an avenue for those who find it hard to express themselves or communicate in recognized means. Music motivates children to be actively involved and engaged with the collaborator and the immediate surroundings. Children diagnosed on the spectrum, often show a heightened interest and response to music which aids in the teaching of verbal and non-verbal communication skills. Music is processed in the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain, and effectively helps stir emotion, evoke change in moods, as an incentive to improve speech, embody self-regulation, increase social interactions, reduce and release stress, and relaxation; to name a few.

Drama Therapy – Children with special needs are often not able to initiate, create, and sustain meaningful conversations due to speech and language deficits. Speaking and the cognitive pragmatics of speaking (ideas of language) are the foundation of all human social interaction. Drama is an effective tool that bridges this as it helps them embody someone in their subconscious states and through time bringing it out to their conscious. Drama therapy employs artistic interventions such as stories, role-play, myths, play texts, puppetry, masks and improvisations; which gives equal validity to the mind and body within the dramatic context. It is integral in the development of social skills, speech, imitation, comprehension, problem solving, conflict resolution, awareness of environment, social reciprocity, and social behavior.

Dance/Movement TherapyThe foundation of this mode of therapy lies in the view that the body is the primary language of a human being. Focusing on the language of the body, i.e., movement, we can bring to our conscious awareness, sensation, posture, gesture, emotion, communication, comprehension, and clarity in concrete ways. For example, studies indicate that forward and backward movement—and the starting and stopping, side-to-side motion—paired with music helps stimulate transmission of information in the brain. Apart from that, this activity alone helps improve compliance, auditory attention, body orientation and balance, developing and improving gross motor.

Play Therapy is a child’s natural language where toys are the child’s words!

It expands self-expression, self-knowledge, self-actualization and self-efficacy. Play reduces stress, anxiety and the feeling of being lost in their thoughts. It connects children to people in a positive way, stimulates creative thinking and exploration, regulates emotions, and boosts confidence (Landreth, 2002). Play therapy helps children:

  • Become more responsible for behaviors and develop more successful strategies.
  • Develop new and creative solutions to problems.
  • Develop respect and acceptance of self and others.
  • Learn to experience and express emotion.
  • Cultivate empathy and respect for thoughts and feelings of others.
  • Learn new social skills and relational skills with peers and family.
  • Develop self-efficacy and thus a better assuredness about their abilities.

Who Benefits from EAT therapy?

EAT sets itself apart as a means of therapy by utilizing the creative process of art and having no limitations to who can benefit from it. In essence anyone can be creative in some form or another. Art therapy can be especially beneficial to children as younger individuals are usually less able and less comfortable expressing themselves via words.

EAT also helps children with limited social skills. The benefits of EAT in these types of situations can help with children with Autism, those who are withdrawn or shy, or who, for some reason or another, have a difficult time functioning within social situations.

While the expressive arts therapies can benefit children greatly, it can also be very helpful to adults. EAT can help improve various mental and physical symptoms including, but not limited to, promoting development, reducing pain, anxiety, and tension. It can be beneficial to those who have mental disorders, severe or light emotional/physical abuse, cancer, post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD), people who are bipolar, and a variety of other serious ailments.

EAT at Direct

At Direct, all EAT therapists are with a psychology background and with additional certification/years of experience in Expressive Arts.

For children, we use all the above mentioned creative interventions on the body and mind to develop gross motor, fine motor skills, orientation, positionality, co-ordination, dimensionality; speech, communication, social reciprocity, socializing, functional communication; behaviour modification; identification and appropriate expression of emotions; releasing aggression and stress.

For adults, we use the same interventions in a completely different manner to pave a path towards stress relief, self-realization and healing. In all cases, these approaches are “brain-wise” interventions that stimulate whole-brain responses to help individuals of all ages, experience reparation, recovery and well-being. The arts have never failed us. It is with this faith and promise that we move forward.