The Expressive Self
Art speaks where words are unable to explain. It is an ever-changing mixture of the intellectual and the emotional, the physical and the spiritual, which marks the virtue of subjectivity. There are some feelings that are hard to verbalize. Some thoughts we don't want to say out loud. So what do we do with them? Art offers a unique means by which we can explore ourselves and our position in the world so wide and is a way to exchange with other people about what we see, feel, think and sense. Art has been a subject of human interest throughout our history as a species, using pictures, stories, dances and chants as healing rituals. In a hospital setting, studies have found that clinical outcomes improve more in patients who participate in art therapy than in those who do not. This tells us that creative expression is a catalyst in our emotional healing process.
Creative expression is at the center of human existence and essential to our being in the world in a meaningful way. It bridges the gap between the conscious and the unconscious mind. When we put our mental process into a physical form, we feel more in control of our thoughts and feelings, and we understand them more clearly. We can't always explain an emotion using logic. Creative activities allow us to externalize our thought process, observe it from a distance and act on our feelings less impulsively.
Such artistic processes allow us to merge our emotional part and our logical parts into one identity. This is a key step in our healing—to learn that what we think logically may not always match how we feel, and that's okay. It is a part of the process. Having a creative outlet where we can express ourselves means we can better manage those thoughts and feelings.
Expressive therapies like art, music, dance/movement, drama, and creative writing hold that neither the body nor the mind can be treated in isolation from other aspects of the human being, which may be called the soul, spirit or the psyche; ‘the sphere of meaning and value'. It can enhance self-regulation in individuals of all ages who are experiencing distress or bearing reactions of a psychological trauma. In particular, the kinesthetic-sensory qualities of art that include rhythm, movement, touch, and sound potentially mediate lower brain functions such as heart rate and respiration through specific approaches.
The unique sensory nature of the "expressive therapeutic relationship," first and foremost, is what differentiates it from verbal therapies in its impact and role in intervention and healing. The expressive therapies emphasize on senses, feelings and non-verbal communication, establishing a different type of attunement between the practitioner and the individual or group, being less dependent on words.
While expressive therapies can be considered a unique domain of psychotherapy and counseling, within this exists a set of individual approaches like Art therapy, music therapy, drama therapy, dance/movement therapy, poetry therapy and play or sand therapy. This is based on a variety of orientations, such as, art as therapy, art psychotherapy and the use of art for traditional healing.
By virtue of being human, we are full of thoughts and ideas that inhabit us with energy. And if the creative energy in our mind sits untouched, it can turn itself on and we feel all sorts of anxiety and restlessness. To maintain our emotional well-being, we need to exercise our creativity.
When the intent behind any art is self-expression, the value inherits emotional benefits. The process we go through to create our art, to transform a mental image into something physical, is a reflection of our thought processes. How many times in a day do you stop to consider what or how you are feeling? Much like paying attention to how we feel physically, the creative arts allow us to check in with our mental well-being and emotional state.
Mirroring one of the commonly used approaches in psychology is to establish and enhance the relationship between the individual and the professional. Within the expressive arts therapies, it is generally described as the embodiment or reflection of an individual's movement or non-verbal communications. The goal of mirroring is not only the imitation of postures, facial expressions and gestures but also conforms the bond between the individual and practitioner.
Mirroring is common to almost all expressive arts approaches, but in particular is relevant to dance/movement therapy because of the kinesthetic level of expression and interpersonal aspects involved in a movement. For example, expressive arts therapy group sessions, including those for trauma survivors, often begin with a movement sequence or simple stretches, starting with everyone reaching up to the sky and down to the earth in a rhythmic manner. In art therapy, the practitioner may demonstrate specific art-based processes to encourage participants to mirror sensory or kinesthetic activities for the purpose of self-soothing or stimulating energy, depending on the needs of the individual or group
Additionally, expressive psychologies positively affect function, mood, cognition and behavior. This is particularly evident in children with special needs, such as those with autism, speech impairments, PTSD, developmental disabilities, ADHD or other mental and behavioral health conditions. Expression through art is a way to help these kids feel a sense of normalcy without judgment while allowing them to show their individual personality and bringing attention to their strengths.
When a child is allowed to express themselves through art it helps to awaken his or her imagination and creativity to help discover how to engage their senses. Putting their feelings into a poem, song and painting give children a safe outlet for negative emotions through an enjoyable activity, which accelerates the healing and the process of growth. Expressive arts aren't just for coping; they also have an immense effect on a child's social, emotional and physical development.
On a deeper level, the artwork that emerges out of a person may take one or more forms. Whether a story is danced about or written, acted, painted or told, where the imagination is engaged there is a sense in which the story, once begun, is understood to tell itself, the body sways itself or the painting informs the painter how it should evolve. It is now that the creator opens himself or herself to the expanded field of imagination.