If you're asking yourself, "What is expressive arts therapy?" you’re not alone.
I introduce myself as an "expressive arts therapist," I'm often met with a bewildered look and an emphatic, "What?"
In short, Expressive Arts Therapy (or EXA) is a therapy approach that incorporates music, movement, dance, drama, poetry, storytelling, clay, painting, and other creative arts as a form of healing.
The truth is that expressive arts therapy is not new.
Various cultures throughout the world have involved the arts as a part of connection, healing, and ritual for millennia.
Expressive arts therapy can be known as a 20th-century version of this long-held tradition.
Here are the 5 ways expressive arts therapy heals you.
1. It believes you're inherently creative.
The expressive arts approach is based on the belief that you're inherently creative.
The therapist holds the lens that you're born with the innate, imaginative capacity to find ingenious ways of solving problems and connecting to your true desires. By exploring freely in a session, you open to your natural, unrestricted playful state.
Rather than trying to solve a dilemma or overcome a pattern by thinking about it, which often makes the pattern more engrained, you may engage in an intuitive drawing or explore a music and writing exercises to access what is lying beneath the thinking mind.
In this inspired place of exploration, you can better gain insights and find solutions to long-held barriers or old patterns, often in surprising ways.
2. It follows your flow.
Although there is no "typical" expressive arts therapy session, you can expect the process to be co-creative and fluid. An expressive arts therapist meets you where you are and focuses on what's most important for you, in the moment and long term.
During a session, the therapist may suggest a specific creative process or invite you to choose what you are drawn to experiment with, in the moment. Each artistic tool is unique and a variety may be used together in a session.
In other words, you may explore drawing and embodying your image in a single session or simply create a three-minute collage that reflects your feelings at the moment, all depending on what you need.
Although sessions and art practices may vary, you always have a say in what you do in a session and are encouraged to ask for what you need.
3. It focuses on the process, not the outcome.
Expressive arts therapy focuses on the process and not the outcome. This perspective does not look at art as "good" or "bad" or a person as a "good artist" or "bad artist."
You don't need to have any artistic ability to engage in expressive art therapy. Rather, the value lies in creating, expressing, and experiencing.
For example, if working with clay in a session, there's no goal to have a beautiful sculpture. What matters is what comes up for you as you work with the clay. Your experiences, reactions, responses, insights, and breakthroughs are the true work of art.
4. It works well with other therapies.
The beauty of this approach is that it works well with other therapeutic approaches. Expressive arts therapy combines extremely well with many, if not most, other forms of therapy.
Let’s say, you're challenging a negative belief, such as "I’m not good enough."
In an expressive art therapy session, you would still apply the talk-therapy tools while perhaps also drawing the part of you that believes you are not enough or using drama interviews and role-plays to investigate it.
By approaching the belief in a new, dynamic way, you gain perspective, have a greater understanding of how to address it, and most importantly, learn how to let the belief go if it no longer serves you.
5. You were born to create.
You were born to imagine, dream, and create.
What you've learned here about expressive arts therapy merely scratches the surface. It's a taste of the richness that's available when you begin to honor that natural artist within.
I encourage you to let the artist out and find out what awaits you on your creative journey.
Angela Luna, LMFT, is a seasoned trauma-informed expressive arts therapist and creative wellness coach, who uses an integrative approach to support clients in transforming old patterns into new possibilities. If you are ready to access your innate creativity and go from meh to mastery, sign up now for a free discovery consult with Luna.
This article was originally published at Angela Luna Therapy. Reprinted with permission from the author.