Creative Arts Therapies

Since the early 1900s, as psychology developed and the unconscious began to be explored, the role that the creative process can play in revealing and healing has been studied and clarified. Emotions are experienced – without the filter of words – in the body itself, and emotional memories are encoded and stored there. The psychotherapeutic use of the creative arts enables us to connect with this material directly, and give nonverbal expression to what is driving or crippling us.

Dance, music, art, and other means of imaginative expression can circumvent the blocks between conscious and unconscious in the rational mind. Not only can the meaning and cause of erratic behavior be made explicit, but the clues to its resolution can appear through creative expression and interaction with a therapist trained in both psychotherapy and the arts.

Dance Movement Therapy

Dance movement therapy can enable individuals to integrate their physical, emotional, and cognitive selves. Because “dancing needs the whole living person” (Rudolf von Laban, pioneer of physiotherapeutic choreography in the 1920s), it has the power to affect parts of the mind that direct verbal communication cannot. The system of choreographic notation formulated by Laban (Labanotation) was later developed and used for analyzing movement, and it is on this basis that dance movement therapists analyze and interpret the actions of their clients. Through the therapist’s insights, the clients may be led to a greater sense of self-awareness and reach a freer level of self-expression.

In this way it is possible to “read” what the body is already communicating, given that 75 percent of communication is nonverbal. The therapist’s interpretation may well reveal new images to the client, possibly representing resolutions of a difficulty or a breakthrough in self-realization. The client may also be pleased that “treatment” seems at least partly physical and is not “all in the head.” A group movement session also encourages interactions with others and helps to break down barriers to communication. Solo or in company, however, dance can bring a new and powerful experience of pure enjoyment to the healing process.

Art Therapy

Art and music therapies have been established now for about 20 years. Because they work on the nonverbal level, they can often help people whose traumas and emotional problems are buried too deep for words, or children who may not have the words to describe their distress. These therapies can be used for people with severe mental problems (although art therapy is not recommended for schizophrenia) but can also help those who find it difficult to express their emotions.

Drawing, painting, craft work, making models – all sllch activities may give form to otherwise inexpressible inner feelings and so access truths that have previously gone unrecognized. The goal in therapy is not necessarily to produce skillful finished works, but to follow spontaneous impulses in the use of (for example) line, color, form, and texture. All too often a person’s spontaneity has been repressed, and reconnecting with that immediacy and energy of itself provides release. The works created can be interpreted individually or as a series.

Painting and modeling can be more than a chance to express one’s creativity. It may be easier for people to represent their inner fears with an image on paper that they can then confront and conquer.

Often the actual act of physically painting or sculpting – throwing the clay, making savage paint strokes- can itself be very therapeutic.

It was Freudian analysts who first discovered the significance of paintings made by inmates of mental asylums. Expressing a fantasy in a nonverbal way, according to Freudian doctrine, allows the patient to bypass the ego, which may try to censor the experience for presentation to the world. Painting helps the patient to take part in their own healing process; a series of pictures may chart their progress toward cure.

Music Therapy

Sessions require both the therapist and the client to play (or beat the rhythm), sing, and listen. The client should create his or her own music while the therapist supports and encourages by responding musically.

Feelings can be conveyed and recognized without words. Through patterns of rhythm, pitch, tempo, and tonality, the client may externalize discordant internal “noise,” so effecting release and harmony. Playing in a group creates a social interaction that can develop awareness and the ability to relate in a satisfying way.

Sound therapy uses specially filtered recorded music to improve listening skills as a way of energizing and harmonizing the mind. Changing the way people think about what they are hearing can also change the way that they feel and behave.

The most recent development in this rapidly growing area is the use of system of loudspeakers that amplifies vibrations caused by music and transmits them to the client through a specially designed mattress. Some experts consider this to be much more efficacious than sound only.

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