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Expressive Arts Therapy

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Expressive Arts Therapy

Introducing Expressive Arts Therapy

Expressive arts therapy is an integrated approach that involves the use of artistic media in order to promote personal growth and change.

Expressive arts therapy groups are designed to facilitate emotional expression through the use of art-based, therapeutic interventions. They allow ideas, thoughts and beliefs to be expressed in a manner different from words or verbal communication. In early recovery, it’s often difficult to identify and communicate emotions. The use of expressive arts encourages a different way of expressing and sharing about experiences in early recovery. Art can also be a meditative practice that promotes healthy coping, which is essential in long-term recovery.

Expressive Arts Therapy | Turning Point of Tampa

Expressive Arts Therapy at Turning Point of Tampa

Simply put, Turning Point of Tampa believes in expressive art therapy. We want our clients expressing themselves in ways that allow them to connect with their soul. Art is all around our campus. Our clients continue to impress and show off their talent.

All are encouraged to participate – what is unique is the type of expression allowed at our facility. To explore techniques of expression means being able to try various methods. Our entire staff encourage expression. The creative experience allows different modalities to find what feels right for each individual.

Some clients write poetry or have different forms of self expression through spoken word. Others play instruments like guitar, drums, or piano, all can be found on our campus. Expressive therapies help people cope and healing occurs.

Origins of The Expressive Arts Therapy Program

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Adrian hill

British artist Adrian Hill coined the term “art therapy” in 1942, and while mental health professionals have put their therapeutic approaches into practice since then, the different forms of arts therapy still revolve around the same activities (broadly, making art, although different modalities of art have come into play) with the same goal- deep personal growth and self discovery.

During Hill’s time, tuberculosis was rampant, and many people were confined to hospitals to prevent its spread. Hill himself was a patient at one of these hospitals and began teaching visual expressive arts to other patients. He observed that when his fellow patients made expressive art, including drawing and painting, their mental health improved.

Hill went on to teach visual arts techniques to hospitalized soldiers and expanded his understanding of the healing effects of creative arts. Word spread of his success in using creativity and art making practices to take patient’s focus off their illness and enable them to get better.

Edward Abramson

Art therapy soon spread to mental hospitals, with visual artist Edward Adamson spearheading the movement. Adamson volunteered to work with Hill after World War II ended. Adamson is referred to as “the father of arts therapy in Britain” for his work to spread the practice. He was the first to bring an arts therapy program to patients receiving psychotherapy at a long-stay mental hospital.

Abramson would instruct patients in techniques, but would not interfere with their process otherwise. This enabled unchecked creativity and let his students express their unique human experience without fear of judgment. This approach to self expression still continues in the typical expressive arts therapy program today.

Edith Kramer

Artist Edith Kramer, who had fled to New York City during World War II, spread the practice of expressive arts therapy to the United States. Working in a school for children with psychological and behavioral issues, Kramer pursued her goal of combining art with psychology.

Kramer was a follower of the movement around Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychotherapy, and was deeply interested in his theory of sublimation, in which deep and unconscious urges are transformed into more acceptable activities, like making art. Her form of expressive arts therapy draws on Freud’s therapeutic approaches.

Kramer’s students often had a limited ability to express their feelings. Learning art forms like finger painting freed them to explore their feelings through the creative process. Expressive arts therapy today is less rooted in Freudian theories, but still works by helping people cope with feelings they can’t express verbally through the creative arts.

Art Therapy Today

The Education of an Expressive Arts Therapist

Over the years, expressive arts therapy has become its own unique movement, with its own education. Expressive arts therapists are bona fide mental health professionals. A training in the arts is not sufficient to practice expressive arts therapy, because it requires an understanding of psychology, the therapeutic process, and the ethical requirements of a therapist.

A registered expressive arts therapist typically has a master’s degree and will receive intensive training in both talk therapy methods and arts therapy techniques. These educational requirements and the accompanying training are intended to help expressive arts therapists guide their patients through the healing process and build their skills so that they can use this ability in future times of stress.

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The average master’s degree program in expressive arts therapy takes an integrative multimodal approach, highlighting the ways that the creative arts and psychotherapy each engage the mind and the healing process. Jessica Kingsley Publishers is one source for literature on expressive arts therapy that is often used in training programs. The International Journal of Art Therapy also publishes writing and research papers on the most effective methods of expressive arts therapy.

Continuing Education and Activism

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An expressive arts therapist must also engage in continuing education and training to maintain an understanding of current new techniques in expressive therapies. This continuing education may include live trainings in a new art form, or an opportunity to explore a psychological process engaged by expressive arts therapy.

Practitioners of expressive arts therapy also frequently lobby for social change, including increased inclusion of arts education and expressive art based counseling for children in schools. Many believe that the creative experience is healing for everyone, not merely people living with mental health issues. They advocate for the inclusion of creative practices in schools and workplaces to improve the mental health of the world community.

The Many Forms of Arts Therapy

Although it began with the visual arts, modern expressive arts therapy incorporates many other modalities of expressive art. Different forms of expressive art engage different parts of the mind and emotions, and some people are better able to focus on some art forms than others.

Visual Arts

The oldest form of arts therapy, the modalities of visual arts offer patients the ability to work with their hands to create an image. Drawing is typically done with graphite pencil, crayons, charcoal, chalk, markers, or pastels. Painting is done using various forms of pigmented solutions, often applied with a brush, but can include technology like the airbrush, spray paint, or sponge brushes as well. Sculpting incorporates clay, carving tools, pottery wheels, and other tools to create three dimensional shapes.

Drawing is useful for patients who want to quickly create a representation of something and can be incorporated into therapy with very little equipment necessary. Most people can draw with little training, so the typical program might begin with drawing to introduce the concept of creative arts therapy. Patients may be asked to draw a self-portrait or sketch out a scene of an important memory. Many family therapy programs ask children to draw their family as a way of visually representing the people close to them.

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Painting requires a little more equipment than drawing, but can still be achieved on a relatively small budget and in many types of spaces. Finger painting in particular is very easy to set up since no brushes are needed and it can be done without an easel. This art form allows expressive art therapy patients to incorporate broad swathes of color, which can be used to represent internal emotions. Expressive arts therapy courses often include instruction in the methods and techniques of painting, like underpainting, dry brushing, glazing, or stippling, and may incorporate training in spray paint or airbrushes to expand patient’s skills and expressive capabilities.

Sculpting or making pottery allows people to create three-dimensional objects as a creative process. It can be done with clay, stone, wood, or even metal. Creating pottery with a pottery wheel can be an intensely meditative and soothing process for many patients, who then have a useful object to remind them of the lessons they learned in therapy.

Music Therapy

Another form of expressive arts therapy that has shown promise is music therapy, which incorporates the auditory sensations of music to achieve therapeutic goals.

Receptive Experiences

Music therapy includes receptive experiences, where patients listen to live or recorded music with a therapist guiding them. Sound baths, where calming and pleasant frequencies are played in a soothing environment, are one popular receptive form of music therapy. Receptive experiences also include group song discussions, where people identify lyrics or other elements of songs that are personally powerful them, as a method of self discovery.

Active Experiences

The other main category of music based expressive arts therapy is active experiences, in which patients make music. This can include singing, chanting, rapping, playing instruments, or composing their own songs. Writing songs can be healing for people with psychological pain, as they may be able to externalize their internal process and create a piece of music that represents their feelings. Active music experiences have shown promise for other areas of health as well, as learning to play simple instruments can be an effective and enjoyable form of physical therapy.

Dance and movement therapy

Dance and movement therapy, or DMT, is another form of musical therapy that has become popular. DMT takes an integrative approach to health, looking at the mind and body as deeply connected. A dance and movement therapy program may be highly directed, with patients learning a dance that they practice as a group, or more loose, with patients expressing themselves through movement to process their emotions. Studies have found that dance therapy can reduce depression and aggressive behaviors in children, and even improve memory in patients with dementia.

Creative Writing Therapy

Writing therapy is a form of expressive arts therapy that takes the creative process of putting words on paper and incorporates guided counseling to help patients process the written works that they create. It can take multiple forms.


One of the most widely used forms of written expressive arts therapy is journaling, where patients write out their thoughts, feelings, and experiences with the goal of understanding them more clearly. For people with mental health challenges, mental processes can be very fast moving and difficult to process, even with the help of a therapist.

Having a written document of their feelings or daily experiences helps people to set out a concrete record of their internal experience that they can reflect on later, whether in a counseling session or alone. This helps children and adults with volatile emotions to ground themselves, as they can return to an earlier journal entry to remind themselves of a time when things were more stable.


Writing poetry, a form of the expressive arts in which language is used to evoke meanings aside from the direct expression of information in prose writing, has shown promise as a form of expressive arts therapy. Patients can create poems that replicate the fragmented and illogical thoughts and emotions that are occurring internally for them, and use the rhythmic quality of language to demonstrate how they are feeling to their group or their therapist.

Drama and fiction

Creating fictional narratives, whether in the form of a drama (like a play) or a short story or novel, is another form of expressive arts therapy. Patients, guided by a therapist, can create fictional scenarios, whether entirely original or based in life, that reflect their experiences and emotions. Patients who create a piece of drama may even have the opportunity to perform it or organize others to do so, which can be intensely cathartic. Children who have been through traumatic experiences are often better able to process them when they create a fictionalized version of the events that they have more ability to control.

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