Expressive Therapies – How They Help Heal

Art and expressive therapies serve as a form of nonverbal communication to express feelings, thoughts, and worldviews. We can also explore problems, strengths, and possibilities for change in our lives. Cathy Malchiodi noted that “art tasks are a way for adult patients, especially those who are resistant to talking, to become invested in therapy.” Someone may not want to discuss distressing relationships or past trauma; however, a person may be open to journaling, writing a poem, creating a collage of hope, or create abstract drawings out of shapes. These activities engage the person in their own way compared to forcing “traditional” ways.

There are many ways to incorporate expressive therapies into your life and recovery:

Art: includes media, images, and creative processes that respond to personal reflections of abilities, interests, concerns to help reconcile emotional conflicts, increase self-awareness, help us act more effectively, solve problems, reduce anxiety, and increase self-esteem.

One way to incorporate this is through drawing, cartooning, painting, collaging, and specific directives. Activities that help to reflect values are vision cards (depicting values and goals), faces of themselves, values in addiction compared to recovery, as well as strengths. These are powerful directives that can help connect to different parts of self through creativity compared to logic.

Music: uses music to increase positive changes in the physical, cognitive, or social functioning of individuals.

When you ask someone what their interests and hobbies are, most will respond with music. One way to incorporate music therapeutically could include listening to songs that increase love, hope, recovery, or self-acceptance. You can also journal throughout listening or track the lyrics. Music helps to connect words and melodies to the soul of healing.

Drama: intentional use of drama or theater to achieve symptom relief, emotional and physical body integration, tell individual’s story, increase understanding of events.

Professionals can help to facilitate drama therapy in group settings. Drama therapy works to shed light on a feelings and behaviors of a person and helps teach them ways to manage and overcome obstacles they struggle with.

Dance/movement: uses intentional body movement that helps mind and body connect as one.

There is a social aspect to dance and movement, which can be valuable for psychological functioning through human interaction. Another benefit is that music is used during the session, which may be able to reduce pain, decrease anxiety, and increase relaxation.

Poetry, storytelling, and bibliotherapy: forms of literature for healing and personal growth.

There are many books, poems, and composed videos that help highlight growth and understanding of one’s struggles. These are alternative outlets compared to traditional talk therapy because it comes from within and does not need to be shared.

Play therapy and sand play therapy: helps to process issues through physical play and creation.

As children’s experiences and knowledge are often communicated through play, it becomes an important vehicle for them to know and accept themselves and others. This could include dolls, Legos, figurines of animals, puppets, or blocks. Adults can also reconnect with a younger, flexible, and willing sense of self.

Expressive therapies may help individuals to process experiences and events in their own way at their own pace. These therapies can also function as hobbies, interests, and coping skills after their time in treatment or throughout their recovery. Recovery goals include implementing skills consistently to stay balanced and expressive therapies are a great way to accomplish this.

Author: Stephanie Pruefer, LPC, CADC – Footprints to Recovery – Primary Counselor

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