Expressive Arts

The term expressive arts refers to the various approaches and interventions used in counseling and psychotherapy for the purposes of client art-making. The creation of art is an integral aspect of therapeutic growth in these approaches. Not only is art seen as an expression of the client's inner truth, but it also serves as a mode of communication of this truth. Counselors working from the expressive arts approach also facilitate an active creating and healing process (White, Bull, & Beavis, 2009).

The central concept of expressive arts approach in counseling is action. This focus on the client doing and experiencing as a therapeutic means is why this approach is considered a component of action therapy. Action therapy is defined as processes that involve clients engaged in purposeful physical activities at the direchon of their counselor or therapist (Wiener, 1999). Action therapy uses two methods that promote client expression and development:

Nondirective or free expression approaches. These approaches are the bases of expressive arts. Clients are freely allowed to engage in artfully creating a counseling intervention designed to enhance their freedom, awareness, and vitality.

Directive or focused expression approaches. Clients are directed by their counselor to perform a certain art activity for the purpose of exploring a specific experience or facet of the clients' issues. These approaches are usually used as a single intervention that is integrated into the theoretical orientation from which the counselor works.

The field of expressive arts is truly limitless in the amount of techniques and applications available for therapeutic work with clients. Currently, there are four modalities within the expressive arts approach (art therapy, dance/movement therapy, drama therapy, and music therapy). Each one of these artistic therapies uses an active and creative method of cultivating client change. Although there are a considerable number of different styles and theories of therapeutic art expression, the following list illustrates the common and central belief system among the expressive arts community:

1. The human condition parallels the breadth and depth of artistic expression. The spoken word, musical chord, dramatic performance, and cadence of dance all evoke some response in humans. This response is in relation to the energy and passion the art projects. As clients experience the creation of art, they experience specific thoughts and feelings that are infused into their art work. This interchange between the client, the art, and their inner perceptibility creates a highly conducive environment for therapeutic exploration.

2. Artistic expression is a liberating process. The act of doing creates. Creation is empowering. Expressive art counselors believe that this empowering process is natural and should be infused in therapeutic work with clients. In counseling that integrates the expressive arts, clients are released from the confinement of their perceptions by experience of sharing their artistic self.

3. Clients' issues are a product of limiting expression and constrictive thinking or feeling. Freedom is an ongoing theme in the expressive arts. Counselors using this approach believe that the natural function of human beings is freedom. Clients are bound by their rehearsal of dysfunction. Expressive art is used as a medium that allows clients to see, hear, and experience free expression and, in turn, explore their thoughts and feeling with a liberated insight.

4. Art-making creates a shift in client perception and thereby increases awareness and insights. As clients develop their power, they become more aware of the freedom they have to impact change in their lives. This change in perception means that the clients' presenting problems begin to take on a different form. Just as one can look at a piece of art and critique its worth, clients are now free to objectively examine their issues.

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