Expressive Arts and Marginalized Populations

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I love the idea of sharing my stories, ideas and perspectives about the field of psychotherapy and the expressive arts, plus the role that our dreams and nightmares can play in understanding ourselves. I've learned a lot of things over the years on my journey to becoming a therapist – some of them led to success…. some not so much. I hope you find these stories thought provoking and insightful, full of curiosity, not to mention sometimes humourous and hopeful. You may even see yourself in these stories and relate to them on a personal level or you may discover how to avoid certain pitfalls and struggles I have had. You take from them what you will. I promise – they won't be boring.

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Expressive Arts and Marginalized Populations

Some populations in our society have little or no availability to art-making activities. They may be struggling with living day to day on the streets or in prison. Some may be struggling with addictions, the effects of trauma or criminality. This life rarely affords them to escape to or engage in art-making endeavours. These very people would benefit greatly if they were able to diffuse their stresses and learn ways of coping through the non-threatening process of expressive arts.

Through utilization of arts in therapy, we can find out who we are and who the client is. We encourage the client to look at the art-making they produced and engage with it. We ask what the art work might say back to the artist? What message does this intuitive and deeply personal process have to offer to each individual? How can it help to make desired changes?

Engaging in Expressive Arts Therapy helps individuals and groups in the harvesting of personal strengths and helps them to discover, learn and take those resources into their personal lives outside of their present situation. As an example, while volunteering at a local jail, I found that with an open mind and a willingness to take risks, the residents of the jail respond favourably to the self-discovery process and allow for welcome surprises that arrive through art making activities and self reflection. By offering visible support and continued interest, the individuals within a group setting thrive and show enthusiasm and growth.

It seems that individuals who perhaps have not had that support in their lives fail to recognize their own strengths and abilities both in an artistic sense as well as in their personal reservoir of capabilities and character. The expressive art therapy approach can feel foreign for the participants at first, but with a willingness to just try, they explore new horizons that are specifically their own.

I also noticed that in this arena not all modalities need to be tried on for size. Some individuals enjoy the variety and some activities resonate more fully with the group. But ultimately I saw shifts in their behaviour, feelings and thinking based on their feedback. This was an exciting situation to work with individuals as they were challenging and hungry for change.

I also worked in a housing environment for women with mental health issues. This experience was very different than the incarcerated men. Most of the sessions were drop-in style as the women are not required to be there. Those that do join in and are clear enough to articulate their thoughts have provided positive feedback to their experiences with us. The methods employed are much more subtle and unstructured and the residents seem to enjoy and respond to our positive energy allowing them to forget their issues for a couple of hours and primarily have fun. Art itself can not cure us or save us but it can make us laugh and provide relief. This feels therapeutic in its own right though not in a clinically obvious way.

Life can be difficult at the best of times and having the opportunity to engage in the life affirming and therapeutic aspects of art making can be a lifeline for those who need it most.

If you would like to learn more about how you can benefit from Expressive Arts Therapy, please request a consultation and we can have a chat.

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