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How Women Benefit from Expressive Arts Therapy

Women, Mental Health

Recovering from mental health issues often takes more than just talk therapy. Avery Lane believes in whole-being recovery, which means we aim to heal every facet of you: mind, body, and spirit. To do this, sometimes non-traditional approaches are needed. Many of our clients engage in expressive arts therapy to support and supplement their whole-being recovery journey.

What Is Expressive Arts Therapy?

Expressive arts therapy is a form of psychotherapy that uses artistic creation as the main medium for expression and communication. It’s considered a holistic modality, although there is mounting scientific evidence that supports its efficacy for treating mental health disorders and substance use disorder (SUD).

Art therapy is generally used as a complementary or secondary therapy for people in recovery from mental health issues and/or SUD. That means that this modality is used in tandem with another form of treatment, such as talk therapy. This does not mean that art therapy cannot be effective on its own; most clients, though, find treatment most effective when art therapy is combined with another modality. The two approaches together can give you more tools and coping mechanisms to support your recovery.

Types of Expressive Arts Therapy

Art therapy is a broad term that can encompass a variety of therapeutic activities, such as:

  • Drawing
  • Painting
  • Sculpting
  • Pottery
  • Dance
  • Fiction writing
  • Poetry
  • Music composition
  • Photography

The most common forms of expressive arts therapy are drawing and painting because they are easy to pick up and require little more than some pencils and paper. Music is also a popular choice since you only need your ears to appreciate it. However, most artistic endeavors can be incorporated into expressive arts therapy. You may find that different mediums provide different benefits and opportunities for healing.

For example, creative writing can be a great way to process traumatic events that you find difficult to talk about. Writing about upsetting events from the point of view of a made-up character can help put distance between the event and your emotions. You may find that you’re able to see the event more clearly and understand your own reaction more deeply. It can be helpful to write the scenario with an alternative ending, like what you wish had happened instead. This can help you understand what you needed in that moment and why it hurt when you didn’t get it. You can also learn to let go of “what-ifs” and accept what really happened with a new sense of peace.

On the other hand, more physical art forms like dance can be used as outlets for emotional release. This is great for dealing with things like grief or intense anger. Channeling difficult emotions into physical movement can help release pent-up or repressed feelings. It gives your anger or sadness a physical place to live and allows them to take up space in the world. Often, emotions are simply asking to be acknowledged and felt in order for you to start to let them go. Additionally, the brain chemicals released during exercise can help reduce stress and anxiety.

Benefits of Expressive Arts Therapy

One of the main benefits of expressive arts therapy is that it can help you foster a deeper connection to the self. This approach provides a pathway to self-discovery and deeper self-connection. Through creative expression, you can embark on a journey of introspection. You’ll explore your innermost thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Art provides a non-verbal medium for you to externalize your internal landscape, unveiling subconscious desires and emotions. Engaging in artistic processes also encourages mindfulness and presence, fostering a deeper awareness of your inner world and personal narrative. The act of creating art invites you to confront your vulnerabilities and truths, fostering self-acceptance and authenticity.

Art therapy serves as a great tool for alleviating stress and anxiety by providing a non-verbal channel for emotional release. Engaging in creative expression enables you to channel your inner turmoil into tangible forms. This can lead to a sense of catharsis and relief. Through art, you can explore and confront your anxieties in a safe and supportive environment. The process of creating art promotes relaxation and mindfulness, redirecting attention away from stressors and promoting a state of flow. As you immerse yourself in artistic activities, you may experience a reduction in physiological symptoms of stress, leading to enhanced well-being and resilience.

Through art therapy, you can promote a deeper understanding between you and your therapist. You can communicate complex emotions and experiences that may be challenging to articulate verbally. Art provides a tangible medium for therapists to observe, interpret, and engage with their clients’ inner worlds, facilitating deeper empathy and connection. As clients create art, therapists gain insights into subconscious processes, facilitating nuanced exploration and validation of clients’ experiences. This shared creative journey fosters trust, empathy, and mutual respect between clients and therapists, enhancing the therapeutic alliance. Art therapy transcends words, enabling transformative connections that enrich the therapeutic process.

Additional Benefits of Expressive Arts Therapy

The act of creation can also provide you with a feeling of empowerment. Artistic creation is a process that can be frustrating, but going through that process can boost your self-esteem in the end. Finishing a project can inspire a new sense of self-trust and self-love. Over time, expressive arts therapy can even boost your self-esteem, which is vital for a life of wellness.

Art therapy can help combat disassociation. When you’re struggling with mental illness or SUD, it’s easy to become disconnected from reality. Disassociation is a defense mechanism that develops as a result of repeated trauma. You may feel like there’s an invisible wall between you and everything around you, making your life experiences dull and distant. Expressive arts therapy can help you break down that wall. Creating art requires observation and connection with the world, which can help you learn to ground yourself in reality and interact meaningfully with your life.

Women and Creative Outlets

All people can benefit from having creative outlets. However, women in particular benefit immensely from engaging in the arts, which serve as powerful means of self-expression, empowerment, and holistic well-being. Creative pursuits offer women a sanctuary to explore their identities, emotions, and aspirations in a supportive environment.

Firstly, creative outlets provide a medium for women to articulate and process their experiences. Through art, music, writing, or other forms of expression, women can externalize their inner thoughts and emotions, gaining clarity and insight into their lives. This process can be particularly valuable for addressing complex emotions, navigating life transitions, and coping with challenges such as trauma or stress.

Moreover, creative endeavors empower women to reclaim their narratives and assert their voices in a world that often marginalizes them. Whether through visual arts, performance, or storytelling, women can challenge stereotypes, advocate for social change, and celebrate their diverse identities. Creative platforms become spaces for amplifying women’s voices, fostering community, and promoting solidarity among individuals with shared experiences and values.

Additionally, engaging in creative activities offers women a reprieve from the demands of everyday life, allowing them to reconnect with themselves and prioritize self-care. Creative outlets serve as outlets for relaxation, stress reduction, and mindfulness, enabling women to recharge and replenish their energy reserves. The process of creation can be inherently therapeutic, promoting emotional resilience, and nurturing mental well-being.

Furthermore, creative pursuits open doors to personal growth and skill development, empowering women to explore new interests, cultivate talents, and expand their horizons. Whether learning a new instrument, experimenting with different art mediums, or honing writing skills, women gain confidence and a sense of accomplishment as they master new abilities and express themselves authentically.

At Avery Lane, we believe that women deserve a supportive environment to do all of these things and more. That’s why we strive to make our facilities a safe haven for women of all backgrounds.

Bringing Art into Treatment

Art therapy was first developed in 1942 and has steadily gained traction in clinical settings since then. Now, there are over 5,000 registered art therapists in the U.S., with music therapy being the most popular form among mental health patients. This approach is used to treat a variety of issues, including:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Grief and loss
  • Schizophrenia
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Borderline personality disorder (BPD)
  • SUD and other behavioral disorders

Art therapists usually have some sort of art training before becoming therapists. They may have gone to art school, or they may be self-taught. After completing a bachelor’s degree, they’ll have at least two years of full-time training in a clinical setting. At this point, they’ll be ready to guide clients of their own through the healing world of creativity. Many art therapists specialize in a particular medium, whether that be visual arts such as painting or performing arts like dance. However, all art therapists will encourage you to explore whatever creative endeavor interests you.

What to Expect During a Session

Expressive arts therapy sessions vary depending on the medium. Generally, the first session will be spent familiarizing yourself with the materials and the art form. If you’re drawing or painting, your therapist might guide you through the different pencils, brushes, paints, and canvases that are available. You may spend some time looking at completed drawings and paintings, photographs, or models and natural landscapes for inspiration. Additionally, you’ll spend some time talking to your therapist about your goals for your time together.

The amount of time you spend creating and the amount of time you spend talking is completely dependent on you and what you feel benefits your recovery. For some people, creating art in a quiet environment is cathartic and can leave space for silent, internal reflection. Others find that talking while working on a project can lead to more open and free discussion.

You may undergo art therapy one-on-one with a therapist, or you might be in a classroom-type setting with other clients. Both environments have their pros and cons. A private session can make opening up easier and discourage you from comparing your work to others. At the same time, a group session can foster a sense of community and connection, and you’ll be able to draw inspiration from your fellow artists. The type of setting you prefer is completely up to you.

Art therapy is a very flexible modality that allows you to control the content of sessions. You can center your projects around things that you see, emotions you’re experiencing, or themes that you want to explore. There are no wrong answers. What’s important is that you are taking time to reflect, be creative, and heal.

Other Applications of Art Therapy

Expressive arts therapy has recently been shown to be very effective in managing symptoms of memory-related illnesses such as dementia and Alzheimer’s. This modality offers therapeutic benefits that enhance cognitive function, emotional well-being, and quality of life for individuals affected by these conditions.

Primarily, art therapy provides a non-verbal means of communication and expression for individuals with dementia or Alzheimer’s. Even as verbal abilities decline, creative expression remains accessible. It allows individuals to communicate thoughts, emotions, and memories through visual, tactile, and auditory mediums. This fosters a sense of agency and empowerment, preserving the individual’s dignity and autonomy in the face of cognitive decline.

Moreover, engaging in art therapy stimulates various cognitive functions, including memory, attention, and executive functioning. Through creative activities such as painting, drawing, collage, and music, individuals exercise neural pathways, promote neuroplasticity, and maintain cognitive reserve, potentially slowing the progression of cognitive decline associated with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Art therapy also serves as a source of emotional support and validation for individuals grappling with the emotional impact of dementia. By exploring themes, memories, and feelings through art, individuals can process grief, anxiety, and confusion associated with their condition, fostering a sense of emotional well-being and resilience. Additionally, art therapy sessions provide opportunities for social engagement and connection with peers, caregivers, and therapists, reducing feelings of isolation and promoting a sense of belonging and community.

Expressive Arts Therapy FAQs

Is expressive arts therapy only for children?

Art therapy is often used with children to help them express difficult and complex emotions that they may not have the language for. However, that does not mean that expressive arts therapy is only for children. People of all ages may have difficulty communicating through speech. For some people, talking just isn’t their strong suit, and that’s okay! At Avery Lane, we want to encourage our clients to take the treatment path that feels right for them.

Arts therapy is also useful as an outlet for feelings and thoughts that simply can’t be effectively released through verbal communication. Feelings like grief, shame, and fear often find a more true form through creativity than they can through traditional talk therapy.

Do I have to be good at art to do expressive arts therapy?

Not at all! The point of arts therapy is not to create objectively “good” art, but to use art as a medium for emotional expression and exploration. What matters most is the act and process of creation, not the end product.

Which therapeutic approaches can be used alongside expressive arts therapy?

Most modalities can be used in tandem with art therapy and produce great results. The best treatment plan for you depends on your unique needs and goals. A personalized treatment plan will be created for you with the help of our caring team at Avery Lane to ensure you get the care you deserve. You may benefit from a more holistic-centered plan, with healing practices such as yoga and mindfulness. These practices pair well with the lessons learned through expressive arts therapy. However, holistic approaches can be supplemented and supported by evidence-based psychotherapy as well. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) may fit well into your treatment plan.

Start Expressing Yourself

Avery Lane is a healing center for women facing mental health disorders and SUD. We believe that all women deserve a space to find freedom, clarity, and peace. Our staff is here to help you find your safe haven with us. Whether your journey includes holistic methods like expressive arts therapy, evidence-based modalities like CBT, or both, we want to be there to guide you down the path to recovery. Our services, based in the San Francisco Bay Area, are made for women, by women. A helping hand is only one phone call away. Give us a call at (800) 270-2406 to set up your welcome evaluation and get started on your healing journey.

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