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Expressive Therapies

What is Expressive Therapy?

Expressive therapy is a type of treatment that uses creative arts such as music, dance, drama, and writing as a form of therapy. The core therapeutic concept of this approach is that using the imagination to create art helps to promote emotional and physical healing. When this type of therapy is used in treatment, the act of creating is given more importance and focus than the completed work of art. However, the final piece of artwork often reveals valuable insights to the client.

Some of the different modalities in this therapeutic approach include: the fine arts (painting, drawing and sculpting), dance and movement (interpretative dance, breath and body work), and narrative writing (poetry and journaling).

Expressive therapy has been clinically proven to promote healing and recovery in those suffering from eating disorders, substance abuse or drug addiction, and other co-occurring disorders. This type of therapy provides clients with opportunities to integrate creative and experiential activities into their healing process. Individual or group sessions are most often led by licensed and certified therapists, who may also have specialized training in other clinical areas.

Is expressive therapy best for groups or individuals?

Expressive therapy can be beneficial both in a group and individual setting. The benefit of having it take place in a group setting, is that clients will have the opportunity to witness the creative process of others and offer/receive insight and feedback from their peers. This is also possible during an individual session, which would be done by the facilitating Expressive Therapist.

In what ways is expressive therapy helpful for individuals in recovery?

Expressive therapy is not unlike traditional talk therapy, an effective treatment approach for clients with eating disorders.  However, one primary difference is that clients may often not have the words to describe what they are feeling or going through.  By utilizing this approach, clients can access different mediums to communicate and express their internal experience.  This can be particularly helpful for those suffering from an eating disorder.  As most clients often struggle with verbally expressing themselves, having a creative process to communicate one’s challenges, can provide much needed relief.  Also, due to an individual’s prior focus on food, weight, and body image concerns, one’s creative outlet may have been shut off on some level.  Therefore, just going through this process can help to re-connect clients with the healthy parts of themselves that existed before the development of their illness.

Do you have to be a good artist to benefit from expressive therapy?

Absolutely not, and clients need not be “afraid” of expressing themselves through the creative arts. Though it may seem unnatural at first, this is typically based on the fact that most people are not used to communicating via the arts. Exploring the creative process can be one of the most rewarding aspects of this form of therapy. Clients are not asked to do this alone, but will have an Expressive Therapist there with them to provide both support and guidance through this process.

What are the best websites to learn more about this approach, and/or locate an Expressive Therapist?

www.arttherapy.org   (art therapy)
www.adta.org   (dance/movement therapy)
www.asgpp.org (psychodrama therapy)
www.musictherapy.org (music therapy)


Melissa Rocchi, MAAT, LCPC, ATR
Program Coordinator and Manager of Expressive Therapies at Timberline Knolls
www.timberlineknolls.com