Expressive arts Girl Focused On Creative Art-making Process In Art Therapy

What are the expressive arts in counselling?

Expressive arts in counselling combine psychotherapy and the creative process. They allow for non-verbal self-exploration, expression, understanding, and emotional connection. They accomplish these through:

  • The use of artmaking or self-expression to facilitate non-verbal communication and emotional processing
  • The use of artmaking or self-expression through metaphors, symbols, expressive use of art materials, movement, or other approaches
  • The discussion and reflection on the artwork or expressive medium
  • The relationship building between the client and counsellor

Historical foundations of creative arts in counselling

Pinpointing the origin of Expressive Arts therapy is impossible, as artistic expression has been used therapeutically and spiritually since written communication existed. 

However, creative counselling in a concretely therapeutic space began in the mid-1900s as an expressive treatment for Tuberculosis patients. Art therapy as a phrase was coined by a WWI British artist Adrian Hill, who was hospitalized for tuberculosis and found drawing beneficial.

The British Association for Art Therapists was founded in 1964, and America followed soon after, opening the American Art Therapy Association in 1969 Canadian Art Therapy Association in 1977. Expressive Arts therapy is now an international field, with evidence-based research being conducted worldwide.

What are the proposed mechanisms of change?

There are, of course, many theories as to what accounts for the therapeutic action in expressive arts therapies:

  • Using expressive arts as a pleasant and relaxing activity to reduce stress and cortisol levels and induce a trance-like flow state
  • Using expressive arts for the expression of (unconscious) cognitive patterns or as a tool for developing therapeutic insight
  • Using expressive arts as a conscious expression of difficult emotions and (traumatic) memories
  • Studies examining the therapeutic benefits of expressive arts have found qualitative improvements in the externalization of emotions, quality of life, emotion regulation, and self-expression and connection. Through Expressive Arts, Quantitative improvements have been found in symptoms of depression, anxiety, stress, PTSD, sleep duration, and cortisol levels.

Creative arts techniques

For anxiety/stress

Mandala art: This ancient art form helps with stress and anxiety as they require focused attention to create patterns. The repetition of patterns and rhythmic movements helps to reduce heightened emotions.

1-minute Brain Dump:

  1. Draw a large circle to represent a thought bubble.
  2. In the thought bubble, draw or write words to brain-dump all the issues you are currently anxious about.
  3. Do this exercise in one minute.

Using a shortened time frame will help you "dump" your worries and visualize them in front of you. Take time to reflect – how do you feel once they are on paper?

Draw monsters in place of your real fears: Think about something frightening and use your tools to give it form, color, and shape. Creating your representation of a monster based on your fear or anxiety will help externalize it to take some of its power away.

For depression/grief

The unsent postcard: Express your feelings to someone you might still hurt by designing and writing a letter or postcard (one you do not plan on sending) with words, images, and colors to express your feelings.

Create a portrait of your future self: Create a visual representation of how you wish to see your future self. Learn about yourself, your goals, and how you might become who you want to be. What is standing in your way? What might be possible today?

Draw the positive things in your life: Think of all the things that have helped you in one way or another and draw them. Acknowledging positive aspects of your life will help to evoke happiness while allowing for an expression of gratitude.

For trauma/loss

Draw where you feel safe: Using expressive mediums, draw or imagine a place where you feel safe. What features does it have? 

Collaging: Choose images that you find soothing, calming or even meditative and combine them to create a collage to help you to relax.

Create a personal altar: This highly personal project will help connect you with your spiritual side and honour your resilience.

For joy, gratitude, and relaxation

Collage your vision of a perfect day: Think about what constitutes a perfect day to you and collage it. What about this collage could you make happen today? What goals might you set based on this collage?

Create a family tree of strength: This exercise honors those around you who support you. Paint those close to you who offer you the strength you need in times of difficulty.

Make anchor art: Who are the anchors in your life? In this project, you will decorate an anchor with the people and things that provide stability and strength.

What are some other expressive arts approaches?

  • Horticulture therapy: A therapeutic approach that integrates healing elements of nature. Interventions explore gardening, making natural mandalas, awe walks, forest bathing, fire ceremonies, and animal-assisted therapy
  • Yoga therapy: Explores the use of mind-body practices to manage the effects of mental or physical illness. Interventions explore breathing, movements, meditation, and intention to manage uncertainty and fear through movement
  • Dance and Movement Therapy: Explores the use of dance and movement therapeutically. Interventions explore "mirroring" to explore empathy, jumping for depression, movement metaphors, props for self-expression and exploration
  • Drama therapy: Explores experiential drama/theatre processes to achieve psychological growth and change. Interventions explore storytelling, roleplay, masks, puppetry, improvisation, miniature objects, and rituals


Use of Expressive Arts in Counselling. They allow for non-verbal self-exploration, expression, understanding, and emotional connection. Contact us today to learn more about Expressive Arts.


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