Definition of Expressive Arts Therapy
Expressive Arts Therapy entails the use of two or more creative media (movement, music, drama, singing, art-making, clay and storytelling) for the specific purpose of therapeutic expression and integration. The process is both healing and informative, as it engages both the right brain (creative expressions, the intuitive and spontaneous side) and the left brain (the logical, insightful and analytical side).
Why Expressive Arts Therapy is indicated for children
In my work with adults I have found that most of them (including people with problems and health care professionals learning more about this modality) are disconnected from their own body awareness (breath, posture, sensations) and their emotions. Most people are unskilled and even unaware of their natural ability to express themselves creatively in many different ways in order to process emotions, facilitate communication and as a result dealing better with life in general. When they do get in touch with this 'child-like' expressive ability they experience an increase in resilience, flexibility and vitality (the feeling of being alive and enjoying life).
Unfortunately the disconnection from creative expression starts at a very early age as the result of repeated training in our school system and messages from our social world and culture. It is sad to see that the child is often his or her own biggest critic.
Since 2012 I have been running a small therapy group for children (6–12 years old) that operates on Biocentric principles and follows Gestalt and person-centred creative therapeutic guidelines. It aims to create a safe and supportive environment where children can explore and express their identity and emotions by engaging in dance, music-making, and spontaneous drama and art expression.
Although all children can benefit from the learning environment created in this group, it is especially helpful for children that have experienced trauma of any kind. The latest research shows that traumatic experiences are stored in memory centres in the brain not accessible through rational thinking. Healing takes place through a non-verbal, visceral process of engaging the body in the here and now, and re-imprinting the memory through different therapeutic techniques. In this therapeutic process expressive arts is an ideal vehicle as it is non-verbal, engages parts of the brain for reprogramming and comes naturally to all humans – we were all born with the ability to move, make sounds and express ourselves.
How do we 'do' Expressive Art Therapy in practice?
In practice, Expressive Arts Therapy follows a process where two or more creative activities is combined to create a deepening experience.
- The child firstly becomes aware of their own body through movement and music, which increases personal awareness. An increase in body and breath awareness has been proven to decrease stress and increase emotional stability – a specific challenge for children in this age group.
- The children are guided to express themselves creatively among peers, which they enjoy tremendously. In a world where the focus is on the end product and everyone experiences pressure to outperform others, these exercises create an opportunity to experience the joy of play and creative expression for its own sake.
- The freedom to express all emotions (especially difficult emotions like fear, abandonment, loneliness, meanness, insecurity, anxiety, 'too-much-ness' and 'too-loudness') brings release and defuses past traumas that are stored in the body and the unconscious.
- A non-judgmental space is created, and children are taught to be respectful and supportive firstly towards themselves and then towards their peers.
Playing together towards integrated wellbeing and mental health!
Eleen Polson is a Counselling psychologist in Pretoria with a special interest in Individual therapy with adults and children. She uses hypnotherapy and/or creative media like music, art and visualization for situations of stress, burnout, depression, emotional problems, lack of motivation or vitality, life transitions and relationship problems. She can be reached on 0722121719 or through her website at http://www.explorecreativeself.co.za/
Body awareness and emotions are primarily activated through the limbic system, which is part of the brain that functions on automatic principles.
Biocentric means 'putting Life at the centre'. It focuses on the present lived moment and authentic expression, and values the experience and process above the outcome or end-product. For interesting articles on Biocentric education visit http://www.chrisbreen.net/?m=5&s=14&idkey=819
The Somatic Experience by Peter Levine; Unlocking the Emotional Brain by Bruce Ecker, Robin Ticic and Laurel Hulley, to name but two recent books.