Expressive Arts Therapy

Expressive Arts Therapy

Expressive art therapy integrates all of the arts in a safe, non-judgmental setting to facilitate personal growth and healing. To use the arts expressively means going into our inner realms to discover feelings and to express them through visual art, movement, sound, writing or drama. This process fosters release, self-understanding, insight, and awakens creativity and transpersonal states of consciousness. 


Natalie Rogers

The Creative Connection: Expressive Arts as Healing (1997)

What is Expressive Arts Therapy?

Expressive Arts as a Ritua​l Practice​

The expressive arts, as a form of a counseling-based healing ritual (Atkins, Adams, et al., 2003, pp. 37-38) are restorative (Knill, Levine, & Levine, 2005). Arts processes are fluid and move with the emergence of what will be created and crafted by the client or collective group as accommodation and remediation methods are the tools of the mindful practitioner. I am embracing the field of expressive arts as a special educator, arts educator, and Rehabilitation Counselor with sensitivity to the needs of patients and the medical and psychological aspects surrounding chronic and progressive illnesses; as a co-creator and facilitator leading others to participate in healing arts therapies.


The expressive arts are a structured, albeit fluid, process of inviting a client or a group of people to move flexibly among arts media without judgment or any evaluative aesthetic assessment. Authentic self-expression is born in safe space for those engaged in an expressive arts modality (Eberhart & Atkins, 2014). Client motivation and self-confidence are increased in the expressive arts process when modalities are designed to meet individual client and collective group capabilities and the expressive arts practitioner facilitates a safe and supportive environment or holding space that embraces creative expression (Knill, Levine, & Levine, 2005, p. 50).

Making & Shaping

A client makes and shapes a piece of art that has a life of its own yet I believe that the process of art-making is independent of the product. Some works of art are ritual structures that are designed to hold a particular life experience. Regardless of the process engaged or the resulting product emerging, the expressive arts support and encourage a client's self-expression as a means to "bring awareness to the present moment and to promote self-discovery and therapeutic healing (Rogers, 1993, pp. 2-3). The product of a variety of media can be transcendent and impermanent or remain as a fixed structure. In expressive arts therapy, both the process and product of art making are emphasized. Catherine Hyland Moon (2002) emphasizes that any art process must be healing and life enhancing. Further, a relational aesthetic exists between the artist and to the object being created that is based on an ethic of care. The completion of the “emergent” by the artist is founded on the relational aesthetic of trust between the artist and the process for the art “product” to be one of authentic expression (Knill, Barba, & Fuchs, 2004).

My Philosophy and the Expressive Arts

The philosophies I embrace in response to the expressive arts disciplines and modalities are a grounding mechanism wholly derived from my life as a maker. The principles that influence my practice as a healing artist are derived from a heartfelt belief that the arts are a universal healing modality. My philosophy is characterized by an appreciative curiosity, an invitational presence, and a genuine interest and excitement in response to any individual or group I encounter (Eberhart & Atkins, 2014). The arts are a primary need in my life. My life as an artist and maker are captured in every structure that I have ever composed and have always provided me a significant opportunity to play, to become absorbed in the state of flow (Csikszentmihályi, M., 2008), and to explore the phase of life issues (Erikson, 1980) I am currently experiencing. My life, just like children engaged in block play, is in a constant state of change and transition.


As a change agent, my beliefs are my stabilizing constant that informs a studio-based practice in which the foci will always include resource-oriented attitudes (Knill, P.J., Levine, E.G., & Levine, S.K., 2005) and strength-based approaches (Rolvsjord, 2010) in collaborative processes of expressive arts therapies. The arts provide a sanctuary (Moore, 1992), a holding space, and a container (Knill, P.J., Levine, E.G., & Levine, S.K., 2005) for personal exploration and transformation.


The ability to work effectively with a variety of materials and confidence with art media strengthen my ability to facilitate others further their expression. My creative competencies instill confidence in the client that they are being “held” in a safe space, and are free to “play” in order to go beyond the focus of the presenting issue. McNiff (2004) states that the “ability to work effectively with materials and artistic gestures is required” (p. 132). The technical skills of the artist and a regard for the formal elements of art are used in the making process and emerge in authentic expression.

Studio as Sanctuary

I believe that art studios and other forms of creative spaces are a healing and life enhancing environment for safe and authentic self-expression. Any physical space becomes a studio of sorts when “making” takes place. Studios are safe holding spaces that allow authentic self-expression. When one walks through the door into a studio space, one enters a sanctuary or what is referred to as refers to as “temenos1” (McNiff, 2004, p. 30). I view “making spaces” as sacred sanctuaries of care and creativity.

Art is Made in Community

Art is not made in isolation but in a group as the group forms a witness environment (Allen, 2005, p. 91). The capacity to respond to the “emerging” is increased when one is in an expressive arts community. My experiences of being held safe in creative community has deeply informed my professional ability to hold space for others in the comfort of creative ambiguity.

Art as Spiritual Expression

Moore (1992) suggested that “the care of the soul may take the form of living in a fully embodied imagination, being an artist at home and at work” (p. 300). If art is a soul task, then the “stuff of the world” is here to be made into images that become tabernacles of spirituality. As an artist, I believe that my call is to support others in this task of self-care. Temenos is Greek for a piece of land cut off as a sacred domain, a sacred precinct, or temple enclosure, a grove set off and dedicated to a god, the spellbinding center of a circle, or a sacred place that acts as a vessel of transformation.