Expressive Arts Therapy

Psychology Today:

Expressive arts therapy combines psychology and the creative process to promote emotional growth and healing.

Everyone has an innate desire to create. This creativity can manifest through musicality, visual arts, story-telling or other means. Expressive arts therapy is not about sitting down to paint something technical.  Instead, the participant is encouraged to express themselves through an creative and out-of the-box experience. Creative self-expression is linked to learning and problem solving.  This is useful in supporting new ways of engaging and finding creative solutions to what we are ‘stuck’ on.  When working with children, the therapist follows the child’s lead, offers enticing activities, and shapes whatever emerges during their play into an art form.  Expressive arts therapy works with the whole person: mind and body.

Although talking or conversation may be a part of this experience, no verbal response is required from the client. 

How is Expressive Arts Therapy Neurodiversity Affirming?

  • Neurodiversity-affirming practices and models emphasize that there is diversity in human neurology.
  • Expressive and sensory-based therapies can be defined as neuro-affirming approaches to psychotherapy.
  • Expressive arts therapy provides ways to communicate through a variety of implicit and explicit pathways.

Psychology Today

“Expressive Arts” is such a terrible name for what expressive arts therapy actually does, but at the same time, we can’t think of a better name.  Expressive arts therapy works on human experiences, thoughts, and emotions outside linear thinking and neurotypical languages. It’s hard to name something that words have a hard time describing.

Expressive Arts Therapy is the counselling modality most accepted in South American countries and cultures and North Indigenous communities.  In our opinion, it is also the most compatible therapy for autistic people.  Why?

Expressive Arts Therapy can bring forth, explore and process unspoken or unconscious autistic experiences by using the language of aesthetics. We present artistic experience and expression as a bridge and solution for the double empathy problem: the mismatch of salience in communication. 

 

Examples

Asynchronous Aesthetic Analysis with an adult client (text based therapy)

The client [shares a photo of spilled smoothie]

I spilled my breakfast smoothie this morning. I know I should be happy because:
– I have a good blender
– I have access to some delicious ingredients
– It didn’t stain
– I was able to scoop up most of the spill and drink it anyway
But why is it perceived as wrong to also acknowledge that this is a bad situation?
I’m going through a lot right now and I would definitely need help. “Don’t worry, things will get better”, “it could be worse”, or “at least, you still have…” don’t bring any actual support. It just makes me feel like a spoiled brat. I’m out of spoons and there’s a lot of serious adulting that needs to be done. What am I supposed to do?

The therapist reply:

When I saw the photo, I thought it was an art installation with expressive writing. And it is! There is an inherent beauty here. I love the colour, the contrasting textures, the splatter, and a beautiful message of wisdom: “we are a beautiful mess”. Both “this is a dumpster fire” and “there is some good in it” can co-exist in the same space at the same time. Being in the trenches for so long, sometimes we lift our heads, survey the ruins of the battlefield, and really experience just how hard it has been, how depressing the landscape is, but just keeping ourselves that “at least we are alive” just seem so insufficient and silly. Then, the thought may occur that there are people who are living in beautiful gardens sipping tea and eating cake and it is okay to be angry about just how unfair that is as well. All these emotions matter. Can trench survivors really be spoiled brats?

Play-based approach with children

The child throws a small ball at the counsellor’s face.

Counsellor: Nice shot! We are in a video game and I am the tank and I am going to attack your castle. [Sound effects]

The child: “No!” (throws more balls)

Counsellor: Oh got it! the tank can’t attack you because I am a video game and you are the video game player. The tank is going to move this way slowly until it is destroyed.  I will make sure you won’t lose.

The child: “No! I want to be the video game.  I am the final boss.”

Counsellor: “Great idea! This is my first time playing this game and when I hit, should I do this?” [mimic her initial reaction when she was hit with a ball]

The child: “YEAH!!!” [Mimics the counsellor’s previous sound effects]

 

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