TCSPP students embark on the ‘art’ of expressive arts therapy
Psychotherapy can be combined with artistic expression for the purposes of promoting healing, wellness, and personal change. On the morning of May 25, 2018, a classroom full of mental health professionals from The Chicago School of Professional Psychology came together to learn these creative techniques. They were guided by Tracie Rogers, Ph.D., an assistant professor from the University of the Southern Caribbean, and TCSPP’s Cynthia Langtiw, Psy.D., associate professor in the Clinical Psychology Department.
In the workshop, seasoned TCSPP mental health professionals and faculty, continuing education students in various stages of mental health training, and those unfamiliar to therapy were introduced to the six fields of creative arts therapy—art therapy, drama therapy, poetry therapy, music therapy, dance/movement therapy, and psychodrama. Learning about expressive therapy, which involves two or more of these integrated arts approaches, was the primary goal.
Participants drew pictures depicting their moods; used personalized terms to explore a conversation with their younger self; shared intimate stories about their backgrounds; and self-analyzed themselves with statements like, “Where I Am,” “Where I Want to Be,” “What Gets in My Way,” and “Who or What Helps Me.”
“Expressive arts therapy is working with what’s in the room to foster awareness, encourage emotional growth, and enhance relationships with others,” says Dr. Rogers, who has 15 years of mental health experience. “You can plan everything out. But even when you plan everything out, you must trust the process. Expressive therapy requires patience and feeling the emotional temperaments in the room. Participants drive the process to make it meaningful.”
For a mental health professional, being open and receptive to people’s differences is essential to recognizing those emotional temperaments and knowing when to hold back and when to push forward. With Dr. Rogers professional background, learning about diverse groups is another specialty area.
As a qualitative researcher, her background includes studies regarding the psychosocial implications of HIV for marginalized populations, gender-based violence, and the psychosocial development of adolescent girls with marginalized identities. She works with collaborative and arts-based methodologies as well as youth-led participatory action research and autoethnography.
For those who are interested in learning more about expressive arts therapy, here are a few takeaways from the course:
- This type of therapeutic work requires that the therapist’s attention is cued into specific capacities, including a keen awareness of one’s positionality, reflexivity, and the impact of power dynamics in the therapeutic encounter.
- Action methods (ex. dancing, visualization, narratives) are potent tools for personal and social change with marginalized groups because of the range of opportunities it offers for clients to share their “voice” through verbal and physical cues.
- Ideally, the didactic portion of the training will offer a theoretical basis and rationale for use in multiple clinical situations.
- Suggestions to incorporate in the workshops include improvisation, mind-body connections, self-expression, one’s imagination, and active participation.
Although every workshop may have different results, expressive arts therapy is generally an opportunity for mental health professionals to probe biases and prejudgments (whether consciously or unconsciously). In the safe space of the workshop, participants have the opportunity to learn more about each other’s narratives and challenge their own micro-aggressions.