According to my training & practice here are some of my applications:
It is about being in the flow: when we are engaged in an activity that requires full attention our body systems get a chance to relax. Full attention on a safe and engaging task gives our adrenalin system time to slow down, and activates the parasympathetic system. Or in other words, it simply feels good. And if it doesn’t feel good, it at least often offers relief from other thoughts that can grip us and prevent us from being in the moment.
It is about personal learning: when we turn on our creativity (yes, we are all creative in unique ways) significant personal learning often takes place. We all have our well-known narratives, stories we tell ourselves and others, and when required, we retell and explore these themes to therapists and counsellors. Traditional talking therapies can certainly be most effective but creative arts therapies are great for creating spaces where new knowledge can emerge. Sometimes our old stories or narratives are exactly what can hold us back. By creating something in a new way there is usually some surprise, strength and direction that reveals itself. When we are engaged in some form of creating while we talk or sit quietly, such as drawing or doodling, ideas can flow in interesting ways.
For when we don’t want to talk about it, or can’t: drawing, writing, movement, clay and sand tray work are all options for when we either can’t talk about some things or are not ready to. With negotiated prompts from the therapist (also often called the Companion in this methodology), the client/inquirer can create a safe language in which to express things that need to emerge slowly. This creates both release and containment of issues as not everything should be expressed at certain times or all at once. Containment alongside gentle realisations is a form of catharsis that is important and meaningful. This is particularly relevant when dealing with trauma which often first presents in the body.
It is multi-modal: in this methodology the inquirer can move from one form of expression to another, or stay with a form they are most comfortable with. Some choose to write, some draw, and others a combination of various forms of expression. When clients are comfortable switching into different modes of expression as the dialogue progresses, this can create great personal learning. For example, automatic (non-stop) writing can then be followed by picking out key words that immediately stand out, then perhaps moving to crayons, clay… The choices are varied and decided by the client.
The inter-subjective response: the therapist or companion usually offers a response to the inquirer, again in creative form of some kind (examples I’ve recently been drawn to have included playdough, poetry and pieces of music). This is a “giving” that the inquirer might resonate with in any way and can form the continuation of the dialogue. It also reduces power imbalances between “therapist” and “client” by allowing the clients to take ownership of what does or doesn’t feel right, according to their needs and experience. In other words, this is very much a client-centred or person-centred approach. Sharing with another, particularly in group sessions, is a powerful way to connect to self and others, and this is even more relevant in the age of so much on-screen time. The therapist or companion is there to provide prompts and open up dialogue but the client is the expert of his or her personal experience.
It is about commitment: committing to a session is a great way to discipline oneself, and perhaps develop a personal practice. We might know all these things above, but do we actually do them regularly? If not, you’re not alone in this challenge.
It is about resonance – what rings true. Research into the effectiveness of different counselling approaches has repeatedly concluded that it is the “therapeutic relationship” that makes the difference, regardless of methodology. The client needs to feel that the therapist “gets him/her” to a large extent or at least is creating a safe and open space for exploration. Anything less is a compromise not worth pursuing. If, after allowing for the discomfort of being challenged, the client feels empowered and heard, then much healing can take place.
And what creative arts therapy is not:
- It is not about becoming or being artists, writers, sculptures etc.
- It is not ‘art therapy’ alone as forms of expression might include writing, movement etc.
- It is not something only ‘creative people’ can do. We all create every day.
For those interested, I will be running a yoga and creative arts workshop at Rocklyn Ashram (near Ballarat, Vic) on Nov 21-23. Day options are available. For further information and/or bookings see http://www.yogavic.org.au/. For information about my creative arts therapy training see: http://www.miecat.org.au/
Suzanne Frydman ©