Using Expressive Therapies to Promote Positive Mental Health

Creativity is contagious. Pass it on...

“Creativity is contagious. Pass it on...”

Albert Einstein

According to Psychology Today, the term expressive therapies is defined as the use of art, music, dance/movement, drama, poetry/creative writing, and play, within the context of psychotherapy, counseling, rehabilitation, or health care. This can mean using various creative modalities to compliment other forms of therapy.

Although expressive therapies are often thought to be a recent inclusion to mental health treatment, some forms of expressive therapies have in fact been employed by certain cultures throughout the ages. With a strong and growing evidence base, expressive therapies have been found to lead to significant improvements to an individual within the areas of emotional, social, physical, and mental health.  

Expressive therapies offer the individual an opportunity to express their emotions externally in a safe space, whilst exploring their own understanding and interpretation of events that are happening in the world around them. This holistic approach to mental health draws upon the client’s innate ability for self-healing, and has multiple benefits to the individual, both short and long term.

Some benefits of expressive therapies include:

  • Aiding communication

  • Enhancing individual development & growth

  • Promoting positive mental health

  • Providing a non-confrontational method to explore a problem

  • Improving self awareness & self esteem

  • Providing access to multiple modes of intelligence

  • Allowing an outlet for emotions that are difficult to articulate

  • Encouraging imagination & creativity

  • Improving overall well being

  • Focusing attention & promoting mindfulness

We, at SLV.Global, strive to run sessions where individuals feel able to explore multiple methods of creative self expression, both individually and within a group. Through the use of nonverbal, fun, interactive, and creative activities we aim to encourage the benefits stated above, and to identify which elements are most useful to service users to increase well-being. In taking this approach, we aim to increase service user inclusion, for those who may be resistant or unable to participate in traditional methods and therapies, whatever the reason.

What is the evidence base?

  • Rapport building: Expressive therapies allow an alternative space for rapport building to strengthen the therapeutic relationship.

  • Patients with dementia: Findings suggest the benefits of singing for patients with dementia, with improvements in several domains including relationships, memory and overall mood.

  • Treatment efficacy: A recent review of literature found quantifiable data to support the efficacy of expressive therapies, such as art therapy, in treating a variety of symptoms and disorders within diverse age groups.

  • Disease related stress: A randomised controlled trial found significant declines in both mood disturbance (effect size 0.25); and traumatic stress symptoms (effect size 0.33) in patients with breast cancer, receiving weekly supportive expressive therapy, in comparison to the control condition.

  • Developmental benefits: Expressive therapies have been found to lead to cognitive and neurological development in children, with art even impacting the brain’s neural connections!

  • PTSD: There is even preliminary evidence to demonstrate the efficacy of expressive therapies in reducing symptoms of PTSD.

It is evident that expressive therapies have many benefits to various, diverse client groups. We can apply these benefits and findings directly to the activities our volunteers run at our projects.

Working cross culturally

Many service users we work with will have had previous experience of working with traditional healers. Many traditional healers, as well as contemporary healing practices, draw on aspects of the arts.

The humanities connect people across different cultures and traditions, allowing reflection of cultural differences. Diversity in social networks is also often linked to enhanced creativity.

Working without language

Expressive therapies allow for connections to be made between individuals where language is not required. This allows for an expressive outlet to individuals in the presence of language barriers, and also applies to our work with service users who may be non-verbal.

Person centred approach

We apply a holistic approach to promoting positive mental health for all. The focus being on how a service user individually experiences and interprets the world around them.

Group diversity

Elements of expressive therapies can be adapted and incorporated into activities appropriate for all service users, irrespective of age, gender, religion, culture, experience, or stage of recovery.

To conclude, it is clear that expressive therapies can have multiple benefits to an individual's overall mental health and well-being. Incorporating elements of these therapies into our sessions and activities contributes to SLV.Global’s overall aim of promoting positive mental health. By fostering an environment where there are no limits to creative expression, we are able to work beyond the limits of culture, age, experience and stage of recovery.

Expressive therapy isn’t about the end result, but rather the process of expression, and the unique journey each individual takes within this process.

“I found I could say things with colour and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way…”

                                                                                                                           Georgia O’Kiefe

Creative Therapies

Written by International Operations Assistant, Alicia

Aurora Trentin