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Need to bust the pandemic stress? Try the healing power of Creative Arts!

We are living in a time of cut-throat competition. People everywhere are astoundingly ambitious, working their fingers to the bone in the pursuit of innumerable dreams and goals. However, in this tremendously fast-paced era, we have oceans of emotional and mental health issues deeper than ever. Especially for the last one and a half years, being trapped in our homes and poked by our surroundings with the guilt of not being productive has taken a toll on almost everyone’s mental peace.

Thankfully, there has been a greater emphasis on the importance of mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being, owing to the awareness created regarding the same. There has also been a rise in the provision of mental health services to people of various age groups by individuals and organizations. Professionals such as psychologists, psychiatrists, and therapists are persistently devising and coming up with ample methods to treat psychological disorders and improve one’s wellness in all senses. One such means is – Expressive Arts Therapy.

What is Expressive Arts Therapy? 

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Expressive Arts Therapy is an inter-modal discipline that uses creative arts – such as music, dance, poetry, painting, writing – to aid people in addressing mental distress, processing intense thoughts and emotions, resolving persistent psychological concerns, and thus extending self-awareness in addition to improving one’s mental, emotional and most of the times, even physical well-being. This kind of therapy also helps to reduce stress, improve social skills and understand a person’s behaviours better by incorporating creative arts as a medium of creative expression. 

“Art opens the closets, airs out the cellars and attics. It brings healing.”

                                                                                   -Julia Cameron

Peeping into history, one realizes that we have been using multiple art forms for expression, interaction, and conflict resolution for thousands of years now. Even in today’s world, when capitalism is so entrenched in our lives, the significance of art is hardly undermined. People, especially the younger generation, nowadays are trying to resuscitate dead forms of various hues of art. 

Expressive arts therapy was originated around 1970 at the Leslie College Graduate School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and is still comparatively new. Paolo Knill, a trailblazer in the field, established the International Network of Expressive Arts Therapy Training Centres. Doctors could see that mentally unwell people commonly articulated themselves via paintings, music, and other artistic works, spurring others to explore using art as a therapeutic tool. Many scholars contributed substantially to the advancement of expressive arts therapy as an acclaimed discipline, thus, designating art an integral position in the psychiatric sector.

Who can benefit from Expressive Arts Therapy?

Expressive Arts Therapy is a versatile form of therapy suitable for people of all ages, i.e., practically anyone could use it. You do not need to be previously experienced or even talented, for that matter, to reap benefits from this sort of therapy. That is because it focuses on the process of creating rather than the artistic outcomes. Creative Arts Therapy could be an excellent outlet for various groups of people such as:

  • people with serious mental illness
  • individuals with learning disabilities such as Dyslexia and ADHD
  • people on the autistic spectrum
  • adults with inarticulate or complicated thoughts
  • individuals having a brain injury
  • children social or behavioural problems
  • people with posttraumatic stress

Creative Arts Therapy Exercises

The use of expressive art enables an individual to deal with an array of behavioural and mental health concerns. While numerous creative arts encircle this field, each of them has a unique pattern, and therefore, their uses are carefully deliberated over by expressive art therapists keeping in mind the suitability according to the given situation. Sometimes, a combination of different techniques is used if it is perceived to be more effective.

The six creative arts therapy modalities established by The National Coalition of Creative Arts Therapies Association (NCCATA) are:

Art Therapy: a combination of psychotherapy and visual art

Dance/Movement Therapy:  psychotherapeutic use of movement 

Music therapy: music, music-making, or other music-related remedies are used within a therapeutic affiliation.

Drama therapy: methodical use of drama or theatre processes through dialogues and storytelling

Poetry therapy: a part of language arts; use of the written word

Psychodrama: use of spontaneous dramatization, role-playing, and dramatic self-presentation.

Such integration of therapeutic techniques and tools from several distinct art forms facilitates a smooth journey of self-discovery and healing of one’s lingering distresses, therefore assisting expression and communication. Creativity emanates from deep-seated emotions, and a mode of healing like this one brings spontaneity in the flow of such emotions. And the best part? In the process of coping with emotional struggles, you will create something, for yourselves, with fun!

Vaishali Batra
A B.Com (hons) student of Shri Ram College of Commerce, Delhi University. I am a voracious reader, a fiction and poetry maniac, always hungry to peruse stories in all forms. I also take delight in writing poems and absurdly heartfelt pieces. Also, I am crazy about listening to music! Asking me to sing would be at your own risk!