What is Expressive Therapy?

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  • Written By: Emma Lloyd
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 02 October 2019
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Expressive therapy, also known as creative arts therapy, uses creative arts such as music, dance, drama, and writing as a form of therapy. The most important concept behind the use of expressive therapy is that using the imagination to create art helps promote mental and physical healing. When this type of therapy is used as treatment, the act of creating is given more importance than producing a completed work of art.

Expressive therapy is often used in hospitals, mental health centers, senior centers, and in substance abuse programs. Schools may also use this type of program for students with special needs, or for all students, as a form of integrating the arts into lessons. In addition, this type of program is often used as a form of psychotherapy, particularly for children.

Children often do not have the verbal skills to articulate their feelings, but may be capable of acting them out or drawing them. This makes the creative arts very useful for helping children express feelings they may not be able to talk about. Children are often encouraged to play, draw, or act out scenes using dolls or other toys to provide information for a therapist about how the child perceives and interacts with their world. This type of therapy may also be utilized as an ongoing form of treatment for children, teens, and adults with Asperger’s syndrome, autism, and other neurological disorders.


Many expressive therapy practitioners encourage their patients to try different forms of artistic expression depending on their needs and preferences. The therapist will typically suggest the patient try a number of different approaches, such as dance, music, or art, to determine what helps them the most. Alternatively, some therapists may specialize in dance, drama, or another type of creative art. In addition, the type of therapy session patients attend may dictate the form of creative arts used. For example, group therapy lends itself well to drama and dance, whereas art or writing may be more suited to private or family therapy.

Expressive therapy is also a useful form of physical therapy. Taking part in expressive arts such as drama and dance is a positive way for people recovering from accident or injury to get in touch with their bodies. It is particularly useful because physiotherapy and rehabilitation therapy is often painful and frustrating, and using dance and other creative arts is typically perceived and experienced as being more relaxed and enjoyable.


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Post 2

Anger management therapy often incorporates this kind of self-expression in order to recognize and organize the human energy behind anger. When an individual with anger issues is able to channel his or her energy and focus it on a clear and creative goal, this often assuages their feeling of a need to rage. Consistency in exercising these creative abilities can have long-lasting and effective results.

Post 1

I had a friend who was going through some deep depression and I recommended that she begin painting. It had been an old hobby of hers which she had left off. This exercise helped her to focus her mind on creating beauty, and to heal her deep wounds. Artistic and creative endeavor exercises deep parts of the brain and can "express" these deep desires and longings in a way which nothing else can.

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