Breathing the Arts into Psychotherapy
Expressive Arts Therapy in Clinical Practice
A teenage girl who had gone through a significant trauma came to me sometime ago. The traumatic incident had left a strong impact and various symptoms. It affected her functionality in terms of relatedness to people both friends and family, sometimes even her movement because of the trauma she underwent.
The room had been set up with A3 sheets, paint, crayons, sketch pens, clay, dolls, and animal figures and craft material. I began using an A3 sheet and sketching, while verbalizing at the same time. My 4th
image was a badly drawn chocolate, which to her looked like a cat, and for the first time in a year she said, “is that a kitty? Do you like cats?” The art became a safe medium for her to engage with me, through symbols, color and metaphors we began identifying her interests, strengths, and positive relationships. We added her favorite music to the sessions and spoke about powerful song lyrics that she identified with (how the singer struggled and survived a crisis). We then used craft material to enhance mobility, confidence and joy: – playing with a balloon using different body parts, building a train model using cardboard, paper and paint for which she had to sit on the floor and engage body and mind. Once rapport was well established we moved to exploring themes including strengths and struggles, fears and anxieties (polarities). In the 5th month we did a free art activity where I asked her to pick colors that represented fear, anger, anxiety and start spreading it on paper (black, red, brown and white). The result was a monster image with red eyes made with a lot of energy, aggressive strokes; after which she began crying and discussing in detail the incident and her guilt and fear about the same.
We engaged writing and enactment into our session where we wrote a super hero comic, about her life channelizing her emotions and identifying coping mechanisms. Her 6th chapter called the bridge, 1 year into therapy, was about the hero (herself) and her cape (the therapist) would usually fly past difficulties and help people. THIS bridge was different and she needed to walk past it to defeat the monsters in her story. I can still see the vivid images of how each step was different and had a message or solution – “NOT my fault” “reduce nightmares” and “go back to school”. Enacting “Oh the places you will go” by Dr. Seuss while she wore a cape of her strengths she painted, helped her identify her resources! The final session was where she finished the comic book that we both signed and decided that she would start the sequel on her OWN.
Understanding Art Based Therapy
When we write
a poem, identify
with an image
, find joy in a song
, and teach our body
when we stretch, the different mediums become an extension of human emotion
; the art becoming a language of one’s expression
. This is an example of how Intermodal Expressive Art Therapy
is a powerful therapeutic technique and engages solution focused therapy, cognitive therapy as well as psychodynamic principles through a variety of media that engage the client.