The 1st Annual International Expressive Arts Therapy Conference is going to be held in Chennai, India from December 8 to 10, 2016 with the title “Expressions of the Soul” and a theme of Building Professional Networks. This conference of practitioners and proponents of Expressive Art Therapy from around the world is another in a list of strong indicators that this valuable therapeutic modality has come of age.

Expressive arts therapy or creative arts therapy is the use of the creative arts as a form of therapy. What makes it unique from individual art therapies is that the process of creation is emphasized rather than the final product, outcome, or artwork. Expressive therapy is based on the belief that there are healing and insight in the simple use of imagination and participation in the act of creativity and artistic expression.

Expressive arts therapy is an inter-disciplinary approach which may incorporate writing, drama, dance, movement, painting, drawing, music, poetry, dreamwork, and other visual and multimedia arts for personal development and healing. People utilizing expressive arts therapy are guided by a qualified therapist to explore their expressions, creative instincts, and emotional reactions through encounters with the artistic processes. A person is not required to have artistic ability to use or benefit from expressive arts therapy.

Relatively new in the realm of cognitive behavioral therapies, expressive arts therapy began formally in around 1970 at the Leslie College Graduate School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Expressive arts therapy was formed as a distinct practice alongside the specific art therapy modalities at the root of its creation.

How Art Therapy Differs from Expressive Arts Therapy

Expressive Art Therapy is often seen as an umbrella term for referring to all varieties of creative therapy. However, as it has become refined it has taken on a character of its own which makes it unique from these other artistic therapeutic modalities. The focus of expressive arts therapy is on the therapeutic effect of the creative experience itself. Expressive arts therapy integrates therapeutic tools and techniques from many different art forms.

The approach is described as “integrative” when different techniques are used in combination with traditional medicines to improve health and well-being. Expressive arts therapists may employ techniques from a range of other modalities, beyond artistic disciplines, in a treatment program, or even within a single therapy session. The combination of a variety of arts-based therapeutic modalities, and emphasis on the process, not the result, creates a new approach which is distinct from art therapy.

Good Therapy.org, one of the top therapist directories on the Internet, gives a great synopsis of the core research on outcomes in the field:

Expressive Arts Therapy Research

The therapeutic impact of expressive arts therapy is focused on four major areas:

  • Expression
  • Imagination
  • Active participation
  • Mind-body connection.

Studies indicate that music may help individuals experiencing a wide range of social, developmental, and behavioral issues grow in self-awareness and self-confidence and learn new skills and concepts. Expressive arts therapy has also successfully helped children experiencing hyperactivity or social anxiety to control impulsive and aggressive behaviors. Though evidence from empirically valid studies is limited, expressive arts therapy has been used to help individuals with disordered eating habits to explore issues regarding body image, self-esteem, social isolation, and depression.

People with medical illnesses may also benefit from expressive arts therapy. Past research has studied how creating artistic photographs may help people cope with the distress of hospitalization. Another study concluded elderly men and women who are part of an active choir report better health, less doctor visits, fewer falls, and less medication use than peers who are not part of an organized arts program. Finally, another body of research on children with cystic fibrosis who took part in a creative arts support program found the children learned how to better express themselves, reduce stress, and find meaning in their current health situation.

2017 International Expressive Arts Therapy Conference

Another major international conference is scheduled to take place next year, hosted by the San Francisco-based International Expressive Arts Therapy Association (IEATA). Their conference titled, Indigenous Roots of Expressive Arts Therapy: Transformation, Social  Justice, and Social Change, Globally and Locally – will be held on September 27 – October 1, 2017, in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. If you are interested in participating, visit their site for more information.

DEGREE Programs in Expressive Arts Therapy

Surely another sign of further development, refinement, and maturity in the field is a growing number of academic programs. From earlier days when expressive art therapy was seen as an interdisciplinary practice, to eventually some certificate programs and concentrations within other related disciplines, today there are plenty of programs which offer both undergraduate and advanced degrees specifically in Expressive Art Therapy. Below are details for some popular, well-regarded programs.

Lesley University 

Bachelor of Science (BS) in Expressive Arts Therapy

Located in the heart of Cambridge, Massachusetts, Lesley University combines an intensely creative environment with the practical experience students need to succeed in their careers. Each year, about 2,000 undergraduate and close to 4,500 graduate students pursue degrees on campus, off-site, online, and through low-residency programs.

The undergraduate Expressive Arts Therapy major is a pre-professional program that provides a broad multidisciplinary approach to the client/therapist relationship, with an emphasis on the creative process as healing. You will integrate both psychology and the expressive arts, such as music, dance, drama and creative writing while exploring the cultural, historical and global context of these artistic expressions.

You may also apply to enter the Expressive Arts Therapy dual degree program to earn your bachelor’s and master’s degrees in one streamlined course of study.

Appalachian State University, located in Boone, North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, prepares students to lead purposeful lives as engaged global citizens who understand their responsibilities in creating a sustainable future for all.

Expressive Arts Therapy at Appalachian State University began in 1985 when the Department of Human Development and Psychological Counseling at Appalachian offered a course called Therapy and the Expressive Arts. In 1997, faculty members who had been collaborating in that course began to meet monthly, thereby establishing a formal interdisciplinary group known as the Appalachian Expressive Arts Collective. From their collaboration and with inspiration and support from the Hubbard Center for Faculty and Staff Support, they developed an Expressive Arts Therapy concentration within the master’s degree program in Clinical Mental Health Counseling as well as a Graduate Certificate in Expressive Arts Therapy.

They Currently offer the following program options within Expressive Arts Therapy. Click the links below for more information.

Expressive Arts Therapy Concentration

Expressive Arts Therapy Certificate

California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) is an accredited university that strives to embody spirit, intellect, and wisdom in service to individuals, communities, and the earth. CIIS expands the boundaries of traditional degree programs with transdisciplinary, cross-cultural, and applied studies utilizing face-to-face, hybrid, and online pedagogical approaches.

At CIIS, expressive arts therapy refers to a therapeutic approach with individuals, couples, families, groups, and community-based programs that integrates a wide range of arts modalities in the service of human growth, development and healing. It takes a multi-arts or multimodal approach, integrating painting, drawing, sculpture, dance/movement, music, drama, ritual, poetry, and prose within therapeutic encounters.

Prescott College

Expressive Art Therapy blends a passion for art with the skills of counseling. The program follows the educational guidelines of the American Art Therapy Association and the International Expressive Art Therapy Association for becoming a registered expressive art therapist, and the requirements for licensure with the Arizona Board of Behavioral Health. Students seeking licensure in other states must make sure that their degree program covers the necessary requirements of the licensing board in their state. Depending on the state licensure requirements, the Master of Science in Counseling with a concentration in Expressive Art Therapy will take two and half to three years to complete.

The Master of Science in Counseling with a concentration in Expressive Art Therapy combines the 60 credit M.S. and the 30 credit coursework required for the Post-Masters Certificate in EAT into a 90 credit-hour program. This includes coursework, a supervised counseling practicum (in some cases a separate Expressive Art Therapy practicum), attendance at all colloquia, attendance at two Summer Institutes, and a capstone thesis paper.

CE Credits in Expressive Arts Therapy

For health care and counseling professionals interested in learning more about Expressive Art Therapy and its applications, you can earn continuing education credits for studying this article by Dr. Natalie Rogers, an expert and pioneer in the field.

The Path to Wholeness: Person-Centered Expressive Arts Therapy

Therapist Natalie Rogers shares an overview of this growing field of humanistic psychotherapy.

Natalie Rogers, Ph.D., REAT, is Distinguished Consulting Faculty at Saybrook Graduate School and has previously been on the faculties of the California Institute of Integral Studies and the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology. In 1984 she founded the Person-Centered Expressive Arts Therapy Institute and its parent organization, Resources for Creativity and Consciousness, where she participated as teacher, trainer, workshop facilitator, consultant, and board member until its closing in 2005.

Life’s Onion & Expressive Arts Therapy

With its focus on creative thought, design, and personal expression it should come as no surprise that the principles of Expressive Arts Therapy and individual art therapies were guiding elements in the creation of Life’s Onion. Its flexibility and adaptability make it a good fit for use in Expressive Arts Therapy treatment programs, or any context where creative action is used to reinforce healing and personal development.